By this time in her life, Genny would have known the rush of centrifugal forces delivered by a park’s self-propelled merry-go-round, or a carnival’s “Tilt-‘a-whirl.” By seven years of age, she would have savored the memory of waiting in long lines until it was finally her turn to be launched in tight circles that left the world spinning, and her stomach queasy. But there was nothing in her seven years of experience that would have prepared Genny for the ride she was about to take.
A couple of years ago, I was asked to facilitate a parent-teacher meeting at an elementary school. In the midst of this gathering, the principal, Genny, decided to set aside the safety that comes from position, title, and credentials. Speaking from a position of vulnerability and courage, she decided to speak from the heart. She shared a poignant story from the first grade chapter of her own life. As she took us back in time, and helped us see the world through first grade eyes, it seemed to me that what was about to unfold must have felt like it came out of nowhere. I imagined that, like all of those experiences in the park, or carnival, there must have been a sudden spinning feeling, and a kind of nausea, but this time, there was no merry-go-round; no Tilt-a-whirl. Seated in her assigned, first grade desk, Genny would be aware, maybe for the first time, how deeply a human heart could feel disappointment and pain. The centrifugal energy set in motion, must have felt like it was tugging at the very threads that bound her self-esteem together. The forces that set Genny’s first-grade world spinning were delivered with one, single, jet-propelled sentence launched from a thoughtless teacher’s mouth. “You will never be in John Riley’s reading group!”
You see, Genny had spent major portions of her Kindergarten year home with every manor of childhood illness. The cumulative effect of missing the equivalent of twelve weeks of school, led to Genny’s placement into a remedial reading group the following year. Even at seven years of age, Genny was fully aware of her academic status relative to the rest of her peers. She had heard John Riley’s reading recitations. She could tell that he had the right stuff, and by extension, his reading group must have the right stuff too. Genny aspired to be more…to do better. Even then, she was a go-getter trying to move the needle from “good enough” to “great.”
So when her first grade teacher asked the class to name a goal that they had set for themselves, Genny didn’t hesitate to raise her hand, and proudly proclaim, “I want to be in John Riley’s reading group!” Genny’s powerful words brimming with light, and hope, and self-esteem were barely born into the world before her teacher captured them, and attempted to drown them in the pool of her poisonous pedagogy: “You will never be in John Riley’s reading group.”
In this Sunday’s first epistle (Acts 4: 8-12), the reader was placed into a kind of classroom to hear the ex-fisherman, Peter, schooling the teachers of the law. “The stone rejected by the builders, has become the cornerstone.” Here, just on the other side of Good Friday, we are in the middle of the fifty days of Easter. During this season, we celebrate the conviction that God has a distinctive way of redeeming things.
After she concluded her story, I’ll never forget the iron-clad conviction etched into her face and voice as Genny made eye-contact with all those parents, and said something to the effect of, “I have dedicated my life to making sure that nothing like this will ever happen to a child in my school.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
As a therapist, I hear this kind of thing all of the time. An experience occurs that seems to be nothing but a stumbling block, but lo and behold—years later, you find out that, with God’s redemptive power, and a little chutzpah—the stumbling block has become a vital building block in that person’s life. In Genny’s story, an experience that could have signaled a u-turn in a little student’s life, becomes transformed into an engine producing power and passion for educational leadership.
In the pages of this article, I have catalogued how I prayed, and prayed while my parents’ marriage went from bad to worse. I have described how I was wounded, and sought relief in all the wrong places. God’s grace working through psychotherapy, spiritual direction, mentors, and good friends has transformed what was a wound—what was a stumbling block—into a profoundly fulfilling, blessed career, and family life of my own.
Is there an area in your life that seems like nothing more than a stumbling block? Is there a wound that seems to get in the way of progress in your life? Would you be willing to take that stumbling block to spiritual direction, or psychotherapy to see if, with the grace of God, it can be transformed into a building block for some new important structure in your life?
Alternately, if like Genny, you have a story where something that was a stumbling block was transformed into a building block, would you be willing to tell that story to someone who might be encouraged by your example?