By Karen Steinhauser
I received a message from a friend from elementary school a little over a year ago. I had not heard from her since we were children. I had no clue what she was going to say. I will tell this story not to brag on myself, I was a mere child, but to bring awareness and hopefully promote change. For the record, I contacted her before writing this, to gain permission. She gave me her blessing and said, “maybe it will help someone”. I must be rather discreet in some of the details so that I may protect her anonymity.
When we were in elementary school, if you were not feeling well, you would sometimes be put at a desk out in the hallway. Many days in the afternoon, my friend and I would end up in the hallway together. I had no idea what was going on with her, because she never told me. I did notice she seemed very sad. It was very upsetting to me, and I’ve wondered since talking to her, if maybe I realized she needed me, which contributed to my “illness” and ending up in the hall with her. What I didn’t know, was that she was being bullied and mistreated by a teacher. This particular teacher would pinch her, tell her she needed a bath and sometimes even slap her. When my friend knew she was going to have to go to that teacher’s class, she would start throwing up. She was terrified to tell anyone.
Years later, when she finally did share it with a family member, she found out that teacher had a grudge against the family that triggered this behavior. Please understand this is in no way directed at educators. I believe this is a very isolated case involving a teacher, but unfortunately being bullied is not! My friend told me how this had affected her for years to come. She had contacted me to thank me. When we were in that hallway together, I had a family member who worked at the school who would bring me water. I would share my water with my friend. She even remembered my sharing scriptures with her and telling her, “Everything will be ok if we pray.” She told me in her message, “I wanted to let you know that I am grateful to you for giving another little girl so much kindness”. She concluded with “Just know I am grateful and will always remember that you were a light to me”. This came over forty years later! I had no idea how I had impacted her life. I also had no idea how she had suffered.
Quite frankly, whoever came up with the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was clueless! Words are containers of power. They can help heal, comfort, encourage and build up or they can bring harm and tear down, affecting someone for years to come. We must, as parents and grandparents, be the example first and foremost.
Children learn much more by what we live than by what we say. A couple of years ago I witnessed a situation where an “important adult” with children was talking to a group of people after an event. A guy walked up that most would consider to be an outcast. He was different and not too popular. He stood there, trying so hard to join the conversation and fit in. The “important adult’ ignored him and made it plain he was not welcome in the group. I witnessed it, but more importantly his children witnessed it. What kind of message do you suppose they received from that? I can tell you! They will think it’s ok to base how you treat people, by what they look like and how popular they are. You NEVER make yourself look big by treating someone else small!
My granddaughter, Summer, is nine years old. When I spend time with her, I emphasize the importance of her seeking out those kids that eat alone or have few or no friends. I teach her that being kind can make all the difference in someone’s life for many years to come. I also tell her whenever she sees someone being made fun of, to be the one that speaks up letting the perpetrator know, “Hey, that’s not cool and you need to stop”!
When I had received the message from my childhood friend, I spoke to my granddaughter’s class at our church and the youth group. I shared the whole story with them. Many times children do not realize that they can do things that have a lasting impact even at their young age. We must let them know that making a difference in the lives of others doesn’t have an age limit.
It was a great feeling receiving that message all these years later and knowing my kindness had helped ease someone’s suffering. Looking back in my own life, I can remember things that were said to me that had a lasting impact.
Someone once called me an imbecile in my younger years. I didn’t even know what it meant, but I knew they weren’t being nice. I asked someone to define it and when they told me, I was crushed. That person didn’t know I already felt dumb and like I couldn’t learn things as fast as others. I felt stupid for years and only after marrying my husband, who just happens to be very educated, and him reassuring me that I was intelligent, did I start to believe it. He helped give me confidence to do many of the things I do now.
I can remember working at Pizza Hut years ago when I was a single parent with small children. My manager left me in charge for a day, with a very detailed letter of how to handle the things I might encounter. He ended the letter saying he had great confidence in my abilities. Up until that moment, no one had ever told me I had the ability to do anything! I went around for days, saying to myself “I HAVE ABILITIES”! I would look in the mirror and say “I HAVE ABILITIES”! I started to believe it!
I’m sure if my manager is still alive, he probably has no clue how he impacted my life but he did. I kept that letter because of it’s importance! It changed things for me. That might seem so insignificant to you, but trust me when I say, THAT CHANGED MY LIFE! I want to be a life-changer for others! If you have taken the time to read my column this week, I hope it will cause you to give serious thought. First of all, to the words you speak to others. May your words bring healing and hope. Secondly, if you’ve had hurtful words spoken to you, that have caused you pain and suffering through the years, maybe even lowering your self esteem. I pray that you will realize you have much potential and great abilities! May you start to get that revelation and act upon it! Thirdly, seek out those who need an encouraging word. Maybe you will never receive a message like I did, but your words of kindness may have an even greater impact. Whatever our differences may be, at the end of the day, we need to remember we are all in this together!
I hope we will get together next week as you settle down someplace quiet. Maybe by a window with a hot cup of tea, watching the squirrel’s play, where we will talk about what has touched my heart; but more importantly, what I’ve learned from it. As always, God bless!
Karen Sparks Steinhauser is an Estill County native who currently resides in Richmond, Kentucky. She is a Christian children’s author and speaker. If you wish to contact her or schedule her for an event, you may reach her by email at Karensteinhauser7@gmail.com or 859-893-1758.