Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crackers and Juice

Crackers and Juice

I found her offensive.

Clearly, her appearance would drive anyone away. The mottled hair, the fat that hung from her chin, the nose that pointed almost straight up from her face. They each served to drive all who would approach away.

But it was not just her face. The fingernails had not been trimmed for some time. The first time I met her I was afraid to shake her hand as I wondered if she would slash my palm. Her hips had been stretched by the extra body fat in her mid-section. She almost waddled as she moved down the hall.

One might hope that her voice might make up for her appearance. That was not to be. That squeak came every time she had to open her closed lips - like whenever she had to speak a word that started with "b" or "p". I could not help but be reminded of someone scraping their fingernails across the blackboard.

I found her offensive. But I learned a long time ago that I too am broken. And that morning I found that my brokenness kept me ... well, that is what this story is about.

Though, I found it hard to be near Claire, that was her name, there were others that did not. The children. They loved her. Why? Because, as I watched them this morning, it was clear that she loved them. I first saw her in the middle of that big, multicolored, target shaped rug. Not standing, but sitting on her knees. There at her left side were three girls. There were four boys on her right. I did not see the two other children who were sneaking up behind her until it was too late. For as those last two climbed on her back, all ten of them went tumbling forward and as they looked up I saw ten of the loveliest smiles I had ever seen. Claire flipped to her back and start lifting the children as high a she could reach. She would no sooner pick up one child and hold her or him high and gently place them on the ground than she would find another and repeat the process.

The play that day was not just for the young children, but for all those who remembered what childhood was like.

When someone over in the corner yelled "refreshments", the kids bounced off Claire and ran to the table to sit. It would not be fair to say Claire bounced, but she, too, took a seat at the table, right in the midst of all those kids. As she took the hand of the girl to her right and the hand of the girl to her left, the children began to grasp each others hands, following her example. She bowed her head, waited a moment, and began to say grace. It was a simple prayer, but, other than her voice, there was no noise. The children listen while she spoke for just a few seconds to the God that had showed her the love that the children felt that morning. "Amen." And then noise began again - what do you expect from a room full of pre-schoolers who had been wrestling on the floor one moment, in the presence of God the next, and now were ready to take the juice and crackers that were offered.

The children loved Claire, because she loved them. And now, I'm really not sure why she offended me.

With apologies to Dr. Paul Welter, author of Learning From Children.

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