Tag Archives: Compassion

Behind the Name

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In my Etymology class the kids are currently working on a project regarding the history of names.  They started by finding the meaning of their own names.  I knew already that I share my name with a country in Africa.  But I didn’t know that it is also defined as “a fine, pebble-grained leather made from goatskin tanned with sumac!”

Now I don’t know about the goatskin leather part, but I like that Morocco is described as a beautiful kingdom!

I began to do a little research of my own as I entered various names of people I know into the database.  Eliza was one of them.  Her name in Arabic means “light.”  In Greek it means  “pity.”  

The students had to select five friends and/or family names to research.  Part of the assignement was to determine if the name fitted the  person by including a paragraph containing examples supporting their claims.

Eliza 

Eliza’s name is fairly appropriate.  I find that she does have some “light” in her.  I see her “light” when she faithfully writes her children every week.  She is “light” when she smiles.  Being of help to others is another way that she displays the meaning of her name.  She helped raise her brother’s daughter when her assistance was needed.  Eliza’s “light” shines when she walks with God and tries to find her way through life. 

The other meaning fits as well.  She is a pitiful being–one evoking sympathy.  Even though I am often overwhelmingly angry at her; it is tempered with much compassion.  She has experienced a hard, tragic life.  Eliza’s innocence was stolen and she was forced to grow up too soon. I too pity her because she has yet to realize that she has the power to overcome her past. 

Does your name fit you?

In Her Shoes

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When my stepson Evan was 8 years-old, he was having a lot of problems in school.  This wasn’t really anything new–he has always had self-control issues.  But because Eliza kept them away from us, we knew little about how severe his problems in school really were. 

We suspected that he had a mental illness one random weekend when Eliza allowed the boys to spend the night.  Evan arrived with a tiny blue pill in his hand.  She had instructed Ethan to make sure he took it with dinner.  When I noticed it I inquired about it.  Ethan only ten at the time, couldn’t accurately articulate why he had to take the pill.  He basically stated that it was because Evan “was acting bad in school and getting suspended a whole lot.”  We were both alarmed.  We had to wait for Eliza to pick the boys up before inquiring about the pill.  At this time she did not allow us to have her phone number and only contacted us when it benefited her.  When my husband attempted to ask her about it she told him that she would call him about it but never did.

Evan started second grade with us on a good note.  However, three days into the school year, Evan was suspended for biting a classmate.  A few weeks later we attended a skating party hosted by his school.  None of Evan’s classmates would interact with him.  Ethan confided in me later that several of the kids had approached him saying how scared of Evan they were! That was only the beginning.

My husband works over 45 minutes away from Evan’s school.  And because my job is a lot closer, it was me who had to pick him up from school when he was suspended.  Kid you not I left work at the minimum of three times per week to get him.  Sometimes I would be fortunate enough that the call or email came at the tail end of the day.  Evan’s school is dismissed at 2:00pm and ours at 2:45pm.  I was saved by the bell many times by generous co-workers who knew of our situation.  Often someone would cover my seventh period class so that I could leave.

 I used to dread when my classroom phone rang beacuse it was usually the secretary informing me that my son’s school was on the line.  The first time it happened it I felt a surge of fear.  I thought something had happened to Nicholas.  Afterall, I only had one “son.”  After that I received so many calls from his school that I became embarassed.  Surely the office staff would start to gossip about my “bad”child. 

The majority of the time the calls came right before my lunch time.  I would make a mad dash to grab him and drop him off at the sitter’s, sometimes sliding through my classroom door right before the minute bell rang.  This went on for months.  We had tried paying a child care service to pick him up when he was sent home for the day.  This worked for a few weeks before the daycare provider grew tired of picking him up so frequently.  She felt that it was taking away from her other clients.    I was livid about what Evan was putting us through.  I even secretly gave him a nickname: Crazy 8’s.  Evan was obviously acting very “crazy,” he was 8 years-old, and he was a game aficionado.  In fact, one time he was sent home for hitting the teacher because he could not finish playing the game. 

Once while presenting at a writing conference I received “the call.”  Unable to leave my husband had to pick him up.  Eventually my husband learned that he was eligible for FMLA and his job would be protected when he needed to leave.  However, this was a drain on our finances.  My sister and aunt would pick Evan up when neither him or I could leave work.   But at least we were fortunate enough that we had family who was willing to help us.   I knew a woman who wasn’t so lucky.

I worked with Lisa my first year of teaching.  I really didn’t know much about her other than that she was divorced and had a son.  Shortly I discovered more about her when she started being absent 3-4 times a week.  At first, we all thought she was ill and had no problems following the contingency plan that Ms. Johnson had established.  The plan was that each English teacher had to take 5-8 of Lisa’s students each day that she was absent.  Remember, this is high school, so that meant  we would see an extra 25-40 students per day.  And because her absences were not planned, there were no lesson plans that came along with her unruly bunch.  It got old really fast.  We were all annoyed about having to take on her responsibility in addition to our own.

One day we were all sitting around in the English office discussing Lisa and her absences.    By then it had already leaked out that she was absent so frequently due to her young son, Austin who suffered from bipolar disorder, ADHD, and ODD.  We were all beyond feeling empathy for her even though we knew that she was a single parent and that her extended family lived in Florida.  Lisa was carrying the load all by herself.  A few times she had even brought Austin to school as a last resort.  I saw him a couple of times in the English office playing quietly.  He was a cute little boy and seemed to have a sweet personality.  In other words, he didn’t “look” like anything was wrong with him.

Honestly then I was ignorant about mental illness.  I knew that bipolar disorder was a type of mental illness and what the other acronyms stood for but that was the sum of my knowledge.  Everyone had opinions about what she should do, myself included.  I made a comment wondering if Austin was truly bipolar and the room got quiet.  Lisa had entered the area.  If a hole would have opened up in the floor I would have hurled myself into it.  I felt soooo bad.

To her credit, she did not indicate that she knew what we were discussing her life.  But I am sure that she knew.  At the end of the year she was let go due to her poor attendance.  Shortly after that she moved back to her home state in order to get the support she needed.

Today I think about Lisa a lot because I am now walking in her shoes.  Now I see what a journey it is.   She would have a been a good resource for me to brainstorm with.  I see Austin in Evan.  On the surface, he looks peaceful, too.  But what lies underneath is a very troubled child.  I used to wonder if God was punishing me for my lack of understanding.  But now I know that He is using Evan to  teach me endurance, faith, and true compassion. 

Evan’s behavior became so volatile and unpredictable that he was eventually placed in an alternative school for students with behavior problems.  His behavior did not improve there, it actually worsened to the point that we finally relented to our last resort, residential treatment. 

I have learned many things since Evan has been in our home.  I have learned about the devastating toll that mental illness can take on a family.  I learned what it really means to love unconditionally when you are pushed to the limit.  I’ve learned to leave the judging up to God.  Sometimes we don’t know what others are going through based solely on our superficial observances that we deem to be the gospel.

Her Footstool

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My Footstool

My Footstool

I am only five feet tall and therefore I often need the assistance of a footstool to reach things in high places.  I use it almost daily in the kitchen, often in the garage, and in our bedroom to reach my shoes when my husband is not available.  My simple, gray Rubbermaid footstool really comes in handy.

As I was standing on the stool this morning I recalled a nasty message that Eliza had left on the voicemail several years ago.  The message was long and incoherent. She quoted numerous Bible scriptures in a rambling diatribe admonishing my evilness.  She was upset that I had inquired about Evan’s wellbeing after he had been grazed by a car.  I had learned this information from a former acquaintance of hers.  After sharing this news with my husband,  he tried calling Eliza, however, her number had been changed!  Therefore we decided to verify the information with social worker.  I made the call, which in turn made Eliza furious because I was “meddling.” 

I am assuming that she feared that this would get her into further trouble with CPS since she had not informed them of this incident.  I’m really not sure why she thought this because the court had already closed the case.  The social worker was simply monitoring her on an informal basis as she finished her report.  Besides by then she had won the caseworker over.  But she claimed that I could have called her if I really wanted to know.  Yeah right.  I guess she forgot the fact that she had changed her number and didn’t share it with us.

I remember that she quoted Matthew 22:44, heavily emphasizing the words “enemy” and “footstool.”   She also rebuked me in the name of Jesus, “because we fight not against flesh and blood, but principalities…”she then proceeded to plead the blood of Jesus on my behalf–how kind of her.

I was rather puzzled after listening to the message.  Honestly it sounded so fanatical and bizarre that I didn’t know what to think.  Humorously I wondered what my life as her footstool would be like.   Back then I thought to myself that it would be a beautiful day in Hades before I ever stooped low enough for her to place her dirty hooves on my person.  It was a thought that I didn’t find too appealing. 

Flash forward to 2008.  Now I understand that sometimes we need to be footstools to others.  It is how we cultivate a servant’s heart.  Maybe in leaving that message years ago she knew something that I didn’t.  In a sense I am a footstool to her while she is in prison.  I don’t see it as her “stepping” on me in a negative manner, but I see myself as giving her a little assistance just as my stool does for me.  We can all benefit from support now and then.  If I didn’t have my stool, I would be forced to climb the counters to get what I needed.  Likewise, if she didn’t have me, I know she would be climbing the walls.