Stone Crossings: Inclusion

I am five and when they say to stand, I do. Kindergarten doesn’t seem so hard—these ladies give me juice and sugar cookies—I think I’m getting this thing down. But Shelly Lucas hisses under her breath and reaches her hand out to wave me sit back down.
We’re not supposed to, she says.
She’s just trying to do the right thing (bless her heart), but I throw daggers with my eyes and then turn to face the flag. The others put their hands over their hearts and say the words. I just stand, my face turned away from Shelly Lucas sitting on her mat. Mom said I could stand to show respect. Just don’t say the words, she said; just don’t hold my heart in an offering to that flag. I am five and my cheeks flame and that’s the first time I know.
I am different than all these kids.
My different doesn’t show most days. I chase boys on the playground and roll my hair in sponge curlers and have blue eyes. It’s easy to forget my different when I am one of the best readers in the first grade, when I make straight As and place second in the school spelling bee.
I try hard to make them forget.
But every Christmas there is a play and my brothers and sister and I must stay home. And every year when the kids dress up for Halloween, we cast ourselves in our ordinary jeans and go to the library while they eat their treats. There are no valentines or shamrocks…no turkeys made with the outline of our hands. Every holiday offers the opportunity to be the outcast until the other children handle me with kid gloves—they don’t understand what it’s all about.
At the age of five I must choose over and over again and I am just different enough to make me strong. I stop caring what they think. In the midst of all that crazy—somehow–in kindergarten I find God’s heart.
The tabernacle of Yahweh was crimson, blue and purple…I like to think of it as God’s heart, pulsing crimson, blue and purple just beneath its covering of skin…He decided to put his heart in the center of the Israelite community, instructing Moses to build a worship tent according to his heavenly design…Upon the arrival of God’s heart among the Hebrews, no one could deny it was astonishingly beautiful, woven with exquisite thread, whispering love through the lips of pomegranates and golden bells and sprinkling mercy through wings of giant cherubim…(L.L. Barkat, Stone Crossings).
But in the second grade I learn what outcast really means.
That’s when Robert and Charles Posey come to our class. Robert is bigger—word has it that he was held back the year before and Charles is the younger of the two. There are a few homes up our way that do not have running water and theirs must be one of them. They come to school with the smell of unwashed flesh and dirty ill-fitting clothes.
And when the other boys grab their hair and pull them around the playground, punch them in the stomach until their faces turn red, they try not to cry.
I watch these brothers suffer everyday at the hands of their classmates. I might throw Brooks Ferrell a dirty look, but most days I just let anger boil unnoticed. Then one day, I hear Robert ask his little brother something after they both have been bullied around the playground. The bigger boy stands awkward over his little brother’s red face.
Are you ok, Charlie?
At that small string of words something breaks inside of me.
I don’t think it out, I just yell. I don’t know it with my head, but I know it with my heart. Sometimes, we are called to be places of refuge for each other. I stand up to Johnny Spino and tell him to let those boys go.
Johnny Spino wants to be my boyfriend after that—but that’s another story. It didn’t go far beyond Button, Button, Whose Got the Button anyway.
My Pastor spoke about compassion on Sunday. He told the story of the Good Samaritan. I had just read the chapter in L.L.’s Stone Crossings on Inclusion and I couldn’t stop thinking about God’s heart—pulsing crimson, blue and purple. That’s compassion. That’s where compassion comes from. His heart wrapped around mine.
Sometimes I wonder about the Posey boys. I wonder how they are doing, what kind of scars they have and if they even remember the day in second grade when a skinny-legged girl stood up for them on the playground. I remember other times like this when my heart roared like a lion and I am thankful for my time as an outsider. But I am also grateful to be called into his beautiful heart.
Roar like a lion for someone today—roar gentle as a lamb. Be a refuge. You can, you know. I know a second-grader who did it once.
Sharing with Michelle today:

Comments

  1. says

    I can’t get over the little girl who tries to figure out how to belong — standing up, but not putting the hand on her heart.

    It’s been years since I remembered a little boy in my grade-school who always left the room during holiday parties. I had forgotten until just now. I remember now how we’d talk about the fact that Jason wasn’t in the room. I wonder if we treated him like an outcast.

  2. says

    Oh my gosh, my heart is breaking over this, Laura. That one small question: “Are you ok Charlie?” simply crushed me.

    I doubt I would have roared as you did. Heck, I know I wouldn’t have. I don’t roar now. I’m thinking of one or two specific instances in recent years that make me cringe –times I failed to roar, times I failed to show even an ounce of compassion. I pray that God will give me that kind of strength.

    So grateful for this post, Laura. So grateful for you and your heart. Thank you for linking up…

  3. says

    To tell you the truth, I would have punched the bullies in the stomach. I spent many a recess in time-out (or whatever it was called back then) standing against the school wall. I could not handle the bullies.

    It would take a whole post to tell the story of how us little kids finally put a stop to the high school bullie on the bus…

    Little miss feisty, you can share my mat any ole day.

    Blessings.

  4. says

    Beautiful, Laura. I bet writing this took you right back there. It’s amazing the stuff that is locked in our brains from so many years ago – the vividness of those memories.

    Why does all that not-belonging and bullying and misfitting have to start so early? The human condition…

  5. says

    I have been an outcast on account of religion. I know how it feels. But in my case, the bullies were the teachers. Another country. Another place. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t participate in a holiday celebration. It was just because they knew I was a Christian.

  6. says

    My favorite line is “We are meant to be places of refuge for each other.” We are. THAT is the gospel. Jesus is our refuge; and we become refuge for each other as we live closer to His heart. Thanks for this beautiful recollection, Laura. You are such a talented writer with an amazing heart.

  7. says

    Those blue eyes must have pierced right to the heart of that old Johny Spino for him to want to be your boyfriend after you faced him down. This is a beautiful, beautiful story – so like the Good Samaritan. Who would have though, out of all the kids on the playground, that the one who came to the rescue is the one who couldn’t eat the Shamrock cupcake or sing in the Christmas program. It’s so surprisingly wonderful!

  8. says

    I’ve been thinking lately, too, about those early days when I just started getting glimpses that things weren’t as lovely as I imagined them to be.

    I can see you in this, right there,on the playground. You, my friend, can tell a story.

  9. says

    Ooooh the Holy Spirit speaks all through your story Laura. So many things I identify with, remember. He calls us early sometimes doesn’t He. And thank God He does, for those boys, those battered and bruised boys.

    Thank God for your innocence and His grace. I pray that He has continued to defend them and that they have learned that He is their home.

    Thank you x C

  10. says

    You got to have juice? I had milk in a small carton, and I didn’t like milk. Had to walk it down a long hall to the janitor b/c I couldn’t put it in the trash. Okay, so I got caught at the beginning of the post.
    Then, at the middle. I had a friend who couldn’t participate in the pledge or Christmas plays or slumber parties (the last one for other reasons), but she was a friend in our little group. Still, I didn’t understand. I remember her trying to explain and it makes me sad to think of the confused eyes she saw when she needed understanding.
    But the beautiful description of God’s heart . . . the roaring loud or gentle. Compassionate refuge. The ending is what I’ll take with me. Wow.

  11. says

    I imagine there are scars… how could there not be? I also know that there’s healing to those scars because of Jesus. I pray the Posey boys know that healing, even as you have known it.

    Growing up is hard work; I see it over and over again in the lives of my children. In myself as well. Thank God for a grace that keeps us close, holds us tight, loves us best… despite the world’s cruelty.

    How I love my God!

    Blessed rest to you this weekend.

    peace~elaine

  12. says

    Wow a really nice story, wasn’t even gory.
    Like everything on tv, you really gave a nice read to me.
    Oh and to everyone else too, keep up the good work you.
    Now off goes the cat, before you yell scat.

  13. says

    thanks for sharing this sweet memory – reminded me of how hard it is to be a child and how we are shaped by the circumstances we pass through

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