Reporting Suspected Abuse Can be Confusing

I loved my teacher education classes.  I applied to student teach elementary aged students.  My sons were in preschool and grade three, so I was confident with children their ages.

My first four-week assignment was with a third-grade class.  Every morning my supervising teacher wrote the plan for the day on the left edge of the green board in her best handwriting.  She began the day by talking through it with the students.  I imitated this habit throughout my career.

My second four-week assignment was with to fifth-grade.  The teacher had recently given birth to twins and was struggling to transition back to work.  One day she was absent, and a substitute was assigned to our class, as required for insurance purposes.  But I taught and managed the class that day.  Students were quietly working in response to an assignment and one girl raised her hand.

“Mrs. Kerr, can I borrow your sweater?  I fell on my tailbone this weekend and it hurts.”

I folded up my red bulky sweater so it could serve as her seat cushion, and she sat on it.  But throughout that day and night, I turned her question over and over in my mind.  I looked up signs of abuse in one of my textbooks.  A few signs applied to the girl who had borrowed my sweater:

  • She seemed distracted, distant, insecure or withdrawn
  • She had recently begun to skip lunch
  • She would sometimes recoil from incidental contact

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We had been taught to report suspicions of abuse, so I went to school early the next day, not sure that the clues I had observed added up.  When I walked into the faculty lounge, the school counselor happened to be there.  I asked if I could speak to him privately.

Not realizing my supervising teacher had been absent, the counselor went directly to her for clarification.  She reacted angrily, asking why I hadn’t informed her first.  Our interactions that day were tense.

I left school thinking my teaching career might end before it began.  But it didn’t.  That evening the principal called and told me that it was likely my student had been abused.  Child Protective Services were investigating further.

The Christian Bible tells us to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”  But doing that can be confusing, risky, and tiring.  Maybe weariness is sometimes a badge of honor?

Application:  Dear friend, whether you defend someone short term, like I did, or long term, you are doing the kind of work God does.  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Weary friend, pray daily for alertness, wisdom and bravery as you watch over those entrusted to your care.  Ask for advice and help from others, too.

Reflection:

How are you currently living out the call to defend the weak?  Who could help you do that more effectively?

Recommended Reading:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric L. Johnson

Why You Should Ponder One Thing

In the early years of our marriage, our two sons were born, so my first career was and will always be mothering.  I also worked part time doing computer-related things and volunteering at church, living out “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” a bit frenetically.

When my second son started preschool, I decided it was time to put my university degree to use.  For his first semester, I tried to write.  Two of my poems and one chapter in a book called, What Shall I Read Next, were published and I earned a total of something like $300.  It was too quiet, too lonely, and I didn’t have much to write about yet.

Around Christmas, my husband, Brad, and I went to see the movie, City Slickers, in a theater, rare for us.  At one point, the Billy Crystal character asks the cowboy, Curly, “What’s the secret to life?”

Curly answers, with a gnarly finger in the air, “One thing.”

Billy asks what that is and Curly says, “You’ve got to figure that out.”

This started me thinking about what my “one thing” might be.  Over the next few days, I pondered all the settings where I had taught:  Christian camp, Bible study, aerobics class, Sunday school lessons.  On January 2 of that year, I sat up in bed and asked Brad, “What would you think if I went back to school to be a teacher?”  He suggested I start right away.  Two weeks later I attended my first class at the University of Texas.  When we told my mother-in-law, she said, “You’d better finish as fast as you can, or Brad will be transferred and you’ll have to re-take courses.”  I went full time that summer and the next fall, and did my student teaching in the spring, just in time for us to be transferred to England.

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Our sons’s school in England had a policy against hiring parents as teachers, but they let me substitute.  After I did a long-term substitution for a seventh grade Earth Science teacher, they hired me as a sixth grade Biology teacher, and I continued to teach for over twenty years, in American schools in England, The Netherlands, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

During the decades when teaching was my “one thing,” God multiplied my efforts.  He gave me energy, creativity and joy; along with love for the subjects I taught and for my students.  But now I seem to have come full circle, and I am in a season where I am asking God for wisdom and experimenting to see if writing might be my “one thing.”

Mothering, teaching or writing are ways I have filled my days, but there is a much deeper “one thing.”  The Israeli King David poetically wrote, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” No matter what career I pursue, I want companionship with God, and ever increasing understanding of who he is to be my soul’s “one thing.”

Application:   Dear friend, one passage in the Christian Bible that I find helpful as I think about calling and purpose is this, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Weary friend, I long for you to feel confident, capable and joyful in the work, volunteering, or family service that you do. Even more, I long for living in daily relationship with God to be your soul’s “one thing.”

Reflection:

If you are in a season when you have the privilege of choosing how you occupy your days, ask yourself, What do you already do well?  Which roles interest and excite you?  What needs exist that you yearn to fulfill?  What gifts do others recognize in you?  What is your soul’s “one thing”?

Recommended Reading:

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2018: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Simply Opening Your Gift is Not Enough

Brad and I graduated university on Wednesday; got married on Sunday; honeymooned; and then moved from New York to California, where Brad started working as a petroleum engineer.  I worked as a temporary secretary.

We found a church we loved, and before long I volunteered to serve as the sixth-grade boys’ Sunday school teacher.  I had experience teaching first grade Sunday school at my home church, teaching girls at summer camp, and leading Bible study for my peers at university.  I had never struggled to get people to sit still or pay attention.  And everyone had always called me, Sharon.

And then came my first Sunday teaching sixth grade boys.  Despite my careful preparations and enthusiasm, chaos reigned.  At the end of the hour, I was exhausted, and convinced that I needed new methods.  I asked God for wisdom.  Then I realized although I was required to follow the assigned curriculum, such a wiggly, chatty group needed action and interaction.  So I designed games, scripted plays, and invested in candy the boys could earn by demonstrating their learning.  (I no longer use or recommend the third method.)

I began the second Sunday school class by introducing myself as Mrs. Kerr.  I had been called that name only a few times, and I typically responded by looking around to see who Mrs. Kerr might be, expecting her to be older and wiser than I.

As I taught my sixth-grade boys interactively, they became cooperative, glad-hearted, although still wiggly, students of God’s Word.  And I began to become Mrs. Kerr, a teacher who learned her methods by trial and error, reflection and revision, observation and experimentation.  To this day, Mrs. Kerr is my teaching name.

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My most recent group of cooperative, glad-hearted students

A new name is a gift, a new identity, though it may initially be a few sizes too big.  A man named John had a vision where Jesus promised the gift of a new name as a reward to people in the church at Pergamon who listened, and who overcame.

I think growing into any new name, into any new identity, takes teachability, followed by overcoming action.

Application:  Dear friend, God gives us gifts so we can give to others.  This is not always easy, but when we work and serve in our areas of giftedness, God seems to multiply our efforts.  He gives us success, creativity and joy, out of proportion to our efforts.

Reflection:  Are you using your best gifts?  If you are, how can you learn and practice to increase your effectiveness?  If you are not, how can you transition to a place and a role where you can use your best gifts?

Recommended Reading:

Spiritual Gifts Survey 

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller