If you've ever been a classroom teacher, (or have a good imagination), you know what a luxury it is when you get to enjoy a small number of children without the responsibility of monitoring a small army of humans. So a few nights ago, when a friend called with some extra tickets to go see The Wizard of Oz at Starlight Theater, I was excited to call Ta'Riyah, one of my students from this past school year, and invite her to come. Ta'Riyah is one of the most selfless and compassionate kindergartners (now almost a first grader!) I've ever met and her mom and I are pretty tight so I felt comfortable picking her up to spend some time with her.
As we were walking in to the theater I began asking Ta'Riyah how her summer school was going. She said she liked it but she wasn't excited to go anymore. I asked her why and she told me that a boy at school had been picking on her. I dug a little deeper only to learn that he had called her fat and laughed at her with his friend. My heart sunk. The protective mama bear in me instantly began asking her questions about how her teacher responded and if her peer had continued to use unkind words with her. She explained that her teacher called these words "porcupine words" and her classmate didn't say it again. But Ta'Riyah's heart still ached from the sting of these porcupine words.
Later at intermission Ta'Riyah sat in my lap and I talked a little bit more about those words. Wanting to affirm her I began listing things about her that I found to be beautiful- her well assembled hair beads, her deep brown eyes... But then I asked Ta'Riyah if she knew what the most beautiful thing I saw in her was. She paused for about a minute. And then looked up at me and said "My heart?" I was so excited that she knew that would be my answer. I went on to remind Ta'Riyah of how valuable that compassionate heart of hers was in our class this past year. I recounted the many ways Ta'Riyah was quick to take initiative to help peers solve problems or speak kind words to a classmate who was discouraged. Then I got to tell her what God says about her. How He knows how many hairs are on her head. How He finds joy in taking care of her. How He loves her so much He would do anything for her.
A few minutes later, Ta'Riyah and I were sitting quietly, her still in my lap, when she looked up at me and said, "Miss Moore, you're words make me feel happy."
There's no good way to describe the feeling that is a child expressing their appreciation of you. That moment was special for me. Not just because a special six year old affirmed me but because it reminded me of the opportunity and privilege I have in getting to help kids see their deep value and identity that Jesus secures. It was a special moment because it reminded me of the significance of having the opportunity to point kids to Jesus and what he says about them in His word.
The day in day out grind of starting a school is so daunting. So many roads to walk down, the to- do list seems endless. But Ta'Riyah reminded me why Christian education, in any context but especially in neighborhoods where negative language is used more often than positive reinforcement (66% percent of the time compared to higher income homes where negative langauge is only used 14% in adult-child interactions) is so crucial.
It's beautiful that God uses people like Ta'Riyah to remind me of the power of words. And I thought that's what I was doing for her. I'm so humbled by the reality that God allows me to learn from some pretty amazing little ones. I'm so excited to continue learning alongside them about the power and beauty of a God who speaks our value and identity to us through the cross.