4.19.16 Least of These



“If you don’t take hold of the light, the darkness will take ahold of you.” Dave Brickey

People don’t typically gravitate toward teenagers. They’re seen as “the least” of society. Selfish. Egotistical. Moody. Lazy. I can think of a dozen more titles flippantly cast at the age. Mostly, it’s true, or it can be. So for the past few years, I’ve done a research project that asks my students to chose a charity to study, advocate for, and represent to the class. It has been an amazing journey of seeing teenagers learn to care about something bigger than their day, and invest in something that isn’t self-serving. While the initial draw is the $100.00 I promise to donate to the winner’s charity, there are always countless examples during presentations that prove it is so much more than a competition. This year was no different.

In the beginning of the unit, I tell the students that they may chose any charity, but to get my approval, they must first convince me that they are the right person to be an ambassador for this cause. They need to make a connection. I don’t always anticipate just how deep a chord this will strike. A few days ago, near the end of a week of feel-good presentations, it was her turn. Her. The beautiful girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful … who hides behind the hair that falls in her face … who wears only black, or grey … who smiles, but speaks only in whispers. Her.

I tell the students that they need to dress up to present, and that hoodies and jeans aren’t allowed. She stood simply, removing her ever-present grey hoodie at the last minute to reveal a plain white t-shirt. Quietly, she walked to the front of the room, not choosing the digital format of a website or powerpoint, but an old fashioned poster to display her information. It was hand-written, but neatly … and there were only a few pictures. To Write Love on Her Arms was the name of her charity, and I remember being struck when she chose it, at the beauty in the name, and the beauty in the girl who found the charity dedicated to helping those who suffer from: depression, addiction, and self-harm. She’d told me, when she picked it, that a friend of hers needed support, and she was glad there were places, “like this,” to help her.

She began with the facts, displayed the mission and the purpose, and then paused. She was breathing heavily, placing her arms on her legs like someone who’d just run very far and needed a moment to compose themselves.  Then she raised her arms, those hidden, secret arms concealed daily in a hoodie, and shared her faint, criss-cross scars with the world. She exposed what was left of her dark choices, and went on to bravely implore her fellow classmates to get help, and offer help. She said she was better, but explained why she, and so many like her, hide. With tears shed and shared, I could not have been more proud of her … and for that moment … she was the class hero.

Lately I’ve heard so many, many problems others have been facing. Students I know, kids of friends, acquaintances, grown and child alike … they are hurting, or scared, or confused.  And they are literally waiting for any ear open enough to hear their call. I’ve always been attracted to the passage in the Bible from Matthew 25:40 which says,  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” If that’s true … we cannot possibly be confused about our calling.

This poem is for them.  All of them who need us … whoever they are. Please share it.

Least of These

You are far from the least of these,

that harbor troubled hearts,

entangled with troubled minds.

You are not simply one in a million voices,

but rather one voice that is quiet …

but heard.

What I have come to realize,

dear one,

is that skating on eggshell thin self-esteem

cannot get you far enough,

fast enough

from where you’ve been traveling.

You’ve become a fragile creature,

too accustomed to the dark to remember how to feel comfortable in the light.

But you are not lost,

because the truly lost have none reaching out to them –

and I’m still reaching.

You need to trust that different 

really can be,

and that there is such a place

as better.

Leave worse to the shadows it came from.

Remember that no one gets it right all the time,

and that even those of us on the upside of down –


We’ve just been in the light long enough to know

that it’s always strong enough to pull us back.

So if you’re not there yet … if you’re not quite strong enough to handle it all …

I want you to know it’s okay.

Insecurities are not weakness,

they’re only fears unresolved.

And everyone has them,

it’s just time to untie their bind on you.

You aren’t alone –

you never were.

And it’s time you be properly introduced

back into the world you belong in …


And even if, for now,

(because it won’t always be so, I promise)

mine is the only world you’re comfortable rejoining,

it will be enough.

You will be safe, with me.

Little by little, you’ll find yourself –

the you we’ve all missed so dearly.

Moment by moment you won’t have to try quite so hard,

and your choices will be seen more clearly.

Day after day,

your eyes will adjust to the light …

until it is your turn,

to reach out,

and bring someone back too.




2.1.16 See People



 I think the world is blind sometimes.  Truly.  We live and work and shift in and around one another constantly, but how often can we actually say that we, “see” people?  Not often enough is my perception.  Children’s book author Dodie Smith once said, “I like seeing people when they can’t see me.”  And I would argue that most often, that is the case because not many bother to look.  This isn’t a slam or a tirade, just an observation of the sightlessness of society.  I’m certainly a part of this – of overlooking, or simply looking past that which I don’t always take the time to notice.  But then there’s sometimes … and I am a better me when I am looking then.

When I’m really observant, I see him.  A man shuffling his way down the street, bent in half with the weight of years sagging down his once-strong shoulders.  He is a time capsule, living history … but with no one to tell his stories to, he’s simply lost in an age that forgets his value.

When I take the time to notice, I see her.  A woman sitting alone at a cafe table filled with empty places.  Guests filter in and fill the tight space with the friends and lovers they brought along, and one by one they ask her if they can borrow a seat.  She smiles tightly, a new intensity focused on her newspaper, as she perpetually loses chairs from a table she wishes was full.

When I scan the noise I see him.  A boy, inking letters onto his forearm during class, marking himself with words and symbols the world expects to see.  He bears true the reality that people will always live down to your expectations, and since no one ever takes the time to set the bar higher for him – he’s got nowhere to try to climb.

When I watch the chaos I see her.  She is the only thing still.  Beautiful like a chameleon, she camouflages herself into the fade of background noise.  She glances with tired eyes at the overly-enthusiastic masks around her, wishing she was a better actress so that she could pretend to fit in … but she’s too different.  A butterfly among moths doesn’t change the fact that she’s the outlier, no matter how lovely her wings.

And I wish that everyone saw them.  I wish most of all that there were something to say.  Norwegian poet and novelist Tarjei Vesaas said, “Almost nothing need be said when you have eyes.”  But I think I’d amend it to say, “When you have eyes that are open.”

What we see may not change what is … but it just may incite a prayer, a conversation, or the smile that says, “Carry on gentle spirit, until we see one another again.”

Take it in.  Look around you.  And please, see people.