August 26, 2012
Dear Eddie and Carla,
Tomorrow is a big day. Fourth and First Grade… Wow.
When I was a kid, there was a girl in my class named Florence.
Florence looked a little different, and she wore funny clothes. She walked funny. Florence didn’t smile much, and she was prone to emotional outbursts. Kids teased Florence a lot, which made her head hang low. I never told the other kids to stop.
I avoided Florence, and I tried not to talk to her. I never invited her to sit next to me at lunch, or to play with me at recess. It made my face feel hot with shame when she sat and played by herself. She must have been very lonely.
I still think about Florence. I wonder if Florence thinks of me? Probably not fondly.
I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us. The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you.
So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.
Kiddo, if you see a child being left out, or hurt, or teased, a part of your heart will hurt a little. Your mom and I want you to trust that heartache. Your whole life, we want you to notice and trust your heartache. That heartache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something. It is God saying, Eddie and Carla! Wake up! One of my babies is hurting! Do something to help! Whenever you feel compassion — be thrilled! It means God is speaking to you, and that is magic. It means he trusts you and needs you.
Sometimes the magic of compassion will make you step into the middle of a bad situation right away.
Compassion might lead you to tell a teaser to stop it and then ask the teased kid to play. You might invite a left-out kid to sit next to you at lunch. You might choose a kid for your team first who usually gets chosen last. These things will be hard to do, but you can do hard things.
Sometimes you will feel compassion but you won’t step in right away. That’s okay, too. You might choose instead to tell your teacher and then tell us. We are on your team — we are on your whole class’s team. Asking for help for someone who is hurting is not tattling, it is doing the right thing. If someone in your class needs help, please tell me, kiddo. We will make a plan to help together.
When God speaks to you by making your heart hurt for another, by giving you compassion, just do something. Please do not ignore God whispering to you. I so wish I had not ignored God when he spoke to me about Florence. I remember him trying, I remember feeling compassion, but I chose fear over compassion. I wish I hadn’t. Florence could have used a friend, and I could have, too.
Eddie and Carla, Mom and I do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As. We don’t care if the girls or boys think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess. We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not. We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most light sabers or coolest fairy dolls. We just don’t care.
We don’t send you to school to become the best at something. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
Trust me, kiddo, it is. It is more important.
Take care of those classmates of yours, and your teacher, too. You Belong to Each Other. You are lucky kiddos… with all of these new gifts to unwrap this year.
I love you so much.
Enjoy and cherish your gifts.
And thank you for being my favorite gift of all time.
(Okay, so I borrowed heavily from some first-day-of-school letter to children that my Lovely Bride found floating around the internet. But Florence is real. She lives in a little apartment in Fredericksburg, Va, and she works part-time at Goodwill. After our 20th high school reunion last year, I gave her a ride home.)