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How I learned compassion from a sidewalk splattered with lasagna

January 23, 2018

7It was a beautiful March afternoon but I hardly noticed it as I pulled my car to the curb in front of Fred and Anna’s home.  I had organized a “Love My Parents” Banquet for my students’ families in which the teens would entertain and pamper their folks all evening  while their folks enjoyed a meal.  From playing the role of waiters and waitresses to reading poems and love letters to their parents, the teens were ready, and it looked to be a very special evening.  Our roster was full; virtually every parent had signed up to come.

In order to keep costs down, I had put out a call for adults and friends to volunteer to make lasagna and salad, and now on the day of the banquet, I was racing around town picking up the donations in order to get them back to the banquet hall so my wife and other ladies could get the lasagna into a warming oven as soon as possible.

Fred and Anna had no children of their own but they volunteered eagerly to be part of the preparation.

I was on a time crunch.  My wife had called ahead to Anna, informing her that I was going to be screeching up to the front of her house and would be trotting up the sidewalk in order to get the two monstrous pans of homemade lasagna that Anna had spent hours in preparing.

Anna came out to the front sidewalk as I hopped out of the car and strode toward her.  She was holding both trays of lasagna, one tray in each hand, just out of the oven.  They were so warm, in fact, that she had a square of cardboard underneath each tray and was balancing them as good as any waiter I had ever seen.

She made a gesture, nodding towards the tray in her right hand.  “This lasagna is still hot, Brad, so…”

She never finished the sentence. Her small head-nod threw off her balance in the slightest way, but enough to cause a shift of the tray on the frictionless cardboard.  The tray started to slip.

I made a dash but I was too far down the sidewalk.  Try as she might, Anna could not  steady her right hand and the whole tray of lasagna flipped upside down and hit the sidewalk with a resounding SPLAT.

Which caused her to lean forward in dismay.

Which caused her left hand to shift.

The tray started to slide across the cardboard.  She swung her head and threw her right hand to catch, but it was to no avail.

As I was running toward the tray I saw it do a slow motion 360 degree twirl in the air and smack the sidewalk.  SPLAT.

Two gorgeous huge trays of lasagna which would have fed at least thirty people.  Gone.

I lamely tried to gather up the trays.  A neighborhood dog dashed over and started licking the sidewalk.

Anna burst into tears.

I fumbled with words.  “A-Anna, I am so sorry.  Perhaps I c-could…?”  I didn’t know what to say.

She wiped her eyes.  “It’s okay, Brad.  I am the one who is sorry.  I never should have balanced… but go. Go.  You only have an hour left.  Go.”  She shooed me back to the car while wiping away tears.  I left the scene, heartbroken.

But when I arrived at the banquet hall I received a shock.

An Italian restaurant vehicle had pulled up to the back and unloaded a delivery.  My wife Jill was shaking her head in disbelief.  “I got the call from Anna,” she said, “and do you know what she did?  She and her husband ordered thirty plates of lasagna for the parents.  They just arrived.”

I cannot begin to tell you the expense.  The order was from one of the fanciest restaurants in the area.   Later, Fred and Anna vigorously shook off any offer of reimbursement.  “We love the kids so much,” they said.  “This is just a way of saying how much we care.”  I was overwhelmed by their compassion and kindness.  It was a valuable lesson to me, brother.  I had been working with teens for quite some time and had enjoyed the ministry greatly, but had fallen into the routine that is a constant danger to us teachers: projects over pupils.  In my haste to provide the programs to help my teens grow, I had lost my focus on loving the students.  Fred and Anna brought me back to a tender reality.

Love. Compassion.  In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus moved toward the leper and in healing him, touched the filthy contagious leper. He had previously healed without touching. What caused that action? Jesus (verse 41) was moved with compassion, deeply experiencing the leper’s suffering. We are reminded of our God being a God of compassion. In Mark chapter 6, verse 33 we see Jesus again exhibiting this deep love: “The people saw him going and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities and got there ahead of them. When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd and He felt compassion.”

This is the heart and motivation of God: compassion.

At our graduation ceremony, I saw fellow teacher Deidre quietly crying at the rear part of the lobby.  She had no son or daughter graduating that year.  I asked her if she was okay.  She nodded.  “I’ll miss my students,” she said simply.  “I just love them.”  Deidre wasn’t making a display, nor was she vying for attention.  In fact, if she reads this blog and finds out I wrote this, she’ll probably kill me.  Yet, that’s an example of the teachers I see in our academy here.  Educators have that deep-down compassion for their students.

Over the Christmas break I received an email from the parent of a student in one of my classes who was bearing a loneliness that was breaking the heart of her parents.  “Sandy” was in her first year at our school and had not felt the joy of good friendship.  Quickly I sent out a group text to our student members of the school’s National Bible Honor Society chapter.

The lovingkindness spilled over the text messages:

I am calling Sandy right now.  We’re all going to go ice skating.

I will be calling and making sure that she joins us at lunchtime from now on.

Be sure to introduce me to her.  This weekend let’s try to get her to our bonfire.

Lovingkindness.

It’s a Hebrew word: “chesed” What a powerful way to translate it – two words welded into one.

Lovingkindness.

I want to be sure that as a teacher I am a welder.  I want to weld these two words together so that they are inseparable, and carry the word into each and every class period I have.  Sure, the projects are important –  but the pupils are special.

May I, as a teacher, imitate the lovingkindness that is shown me from Above.

Psalm 36:7 – “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.”

 

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