On March 20th, I began an intervention process with one of my students. We had been experiencing a lot of challenging behaviors from him. The day before the intervention began, he punched me in the nose twice. Pretty much from the start of my time at this school, Jason (name has been changed) has been challenging for me. And yet, for some unexplainable reason, I love this child. He made his way straight into my heart and no matter how badly he acts out, I just feel love for him. I didn’t know that I could love a child so much, especially one with so many challenges.
Beginning the intervention process was a joy for me. Yes, it required a lot more paperwork on my part. And yes, it took a lot of time, patience and energy. But I was/am willing to do anything to help this kid. He’s had such a tough life in his three short years and I want to see the years ahead of him be filled with promise and hope. So I began to read what I could about behavior intervention strategies. I pulled on all the things I learned in school and through working with inner city kids. But most importantly, I began to rely on the Lord. There was simply no way I could do this intervention on my own. When I tried to interact with Jason in my own strength, I would end up frustrated, stressed and even angry. But when I rely on Jesus to give me strength, to show me what to do, to give me the words to speak…it is then that I see progress. And I find myself reacting in ways that don’t make sense.
Take Thursday (April 3rd) for instance. In the middle of a small group activity, Jason got so mad at me. He stood up and threw his chair and then any other chair he could get a hold of. He threw toys, yelled and screamed. When I tried to get near him, he would hit me and scratch my arms. After maybe 7-8 minutes when I knew I couldn’t handle this situation on my own, I stepped into the hallway and called the office for help. After all, there were a dozen other kids who needed my attention as well. And I took a moment to breathe deeply and say, “Jesus, help me.” And then it was back into the classroom. I continued to pursue him as he threw stuff, hit and scratched me. I don’t know how long it took, but I finally got him sitting on a stack of chairs and I knelt in front of him. I spoke calmly, repeating the same things over and over. “Tell me what’s wrong, Jason.” “Use your words, Jason.” Over and over.
He continued to scratch my arms and at one point grabbed my hair and ripped out quite a few. I sat there and allowed him to scratch my arms. Honestly, I don’t know why. Something in me just wanted to be still while he scratched and screamed at me. I also wanted to yell back. I wanted him to understand that I love him and I hate to see him hurting. I wanted him to know that he was safe with me. But all I could do was sit there and let him scratch me until he calmed down.
I should have been mad. I should have been upset that he was throwing stuff, hurt that he hit and scratched me, angry over his seemingly ridiculous behavior. Instead, what I felt was calm and also sad. It was nothing short of a miracle from the Lord. Jesus strengthened me. Jesus gave me the words to speak. Jesus filled my heart with a calmness that could only come from him. And it had to be Jesus that gave me the idea of drawing a picture.
Jason was clearly struggling to tell me what was going on. So I asked him if he wanted to draw me a picture of how he felt. I thought it might help him to express his feelings more clearly. Boy did it! I brought him a red piece of paper. He first chose a pink marker. He drew squiggly lines on the paper. I asked what he was drawing. Jason says, “This your scratches. They make me mad.” As we continued to dialogue, I understood that he was mad at himself for scratching me. My arms were covered in pink marks from where he had dragged his nails across my skin.
Jason then chose a black marker. He began to draw again. This time he said, “This is black circle. I am dark.” He knew that he was in a place that he didn’t want to be. He didn’t want to be mad or throwing stuff or hurting his teacher. Finally he chose the pink marker again and as he drew, he said, “This is ugly place. I am here.” Oh, how my heart broke. Here was a little three year old boy who is clearly hurting on the inside. He doesn’t have the skills to verbally express all of his emotions yet and that’s when the fits of anger come out. But when he was given a marker, suddenly his world came alive, his heart could be exposed, the truth was revealed. And Jason felt free. I watched the change come over his face as he realized his teacher understood what he was feeling.
I was wearing a sweatshirt that day and could have pulled the sleeves down to prevent him from scratching me or to cover the marks once he calmed down. But it was those marks that opened the door for him to dialogue about his feelings.
Why do I tell this story? And why am I sad? Because yesterday, Jason was moved out of my classroom. He was sent back to the room he came from, a room for younger children. A room that is less chaotic and less stimulating. A room that he might just thrive in. I am hopeful that it will help him to be there. But I am overwhelmed with sadness to see him go. I long to wrap him in my arms and let him know that he is loved. I wanted him to know that I wasn’t trying to get rid of him by sending him to another room.
My heart hurt yesterday when I came into the classroom to find my little guy gone. It wasn’t until late yesterday afternoon that I encountered Jason again. Our classes happened to cross paths, a gift from the Lord, I am sure. Jason ran up to me as he cried out, “Miss Holly!” I wrapped my arms around him and whispered in his ear, “I love you.” He put his two hands on my face and kissed my lips. “I wuv you.” And then he ran back to join his new class. Just before he turned the corner, he looked back and said, “I miss you.” I believe this was a gift from God. I needed to see that he was okay. That he understood that I hadn’t abandoned him. My prayer is that he thrives in his new class. That he’s able to develop his verbal skills and ultimately rejoin his classmates. And the biggest prayer of all is that he comes to know Jesus. Oh how desperately this child needs to know the love of Jesus! As much as I love him, it is nothing compared to the love of Jesus.
Two days later I still have marks on my arms…a fresh reminder of what it takes to love someone. Reminds me of another One who still bears the marks of His love for us…
No matter how challenging I am, Christ still loves me. He would have done anything so that I might know His love. And He did. He chose the ultimate expression of Love…He died for me. And now He lives with the marks of His sacrifice. His hands and feet tell the story of a love that is deeper than I can fathom. Deeper and wider and higher…yet He chooses to shower that love on me. Wow…