I don’t have a lot of regrets from my childhood, but there’s one from fifth grade that still bothers me.
I made friends with a second grader named Jennifer who rode my bus. She had a round face, a raspy voice, and a wild mop of wavy blond hair. And those eyes — they nearly disappeared when she smiled, which she did a lot — especially when she was talking to me.
The first year she rode the bus, we talked a lot. I could tell she had a little crush on me; and although I didn’t like her like that, I felt that I needed to be gentle with her. So even though I pushed her away a little when she would get too clingy, I was careful not to push too hard.
Every day when the bus stopped in front of her trailer, she bolted out the door, ran to her front yard, threw her books to the ground, pulled herself onto the trampoline, and started jumping. Then, before the bus pulled away, she waved to me in between doing flips. I waved back and clapped for her along with some of the other kids — but eventually, they stopped clapping.
So did I.
Around third grade, Jennifer’s cuteness began to fade, and the other kids on the bus began to take note. Her teeth grew in crookedly, earning her the nickname “Snaggletooth.” Her wild mop of blond hair got wilder — too wild — and her trampoline stunts got old. Nobody was paying attention anymore, and if they were, they were making fun of her.
At first, I resisted joining the crowd — I knew how much my affection meant to her — and as a result, she adored me even more. But there was nothing cool about me looking out the window by myself as she jumped on the trampoline. So pretty soon, I not only stopped looking out the window, I joined the other kids in calling her Snaggletooth. Even worse, I developed a near-perfect impersonation of her raspy voice, which the other kids thought was hilarious.
Naturally, over time, she began to change. She learned how to half-heartedly laugh when I mocked her voice; she learned the art of sarcasm; and she learned how to smile without showing her teeth.
Then one day, the bus doors opened and she didn’t run to the trampoline. She was done.
I never saw her jump on it again.
Where that Girl Is
Maybe you’ve got a little Jennifer inside you.
You made yourself vulnerable to someone — the kids at school, a friend, a family member, your spouse — and they taught you a lesson you never wanted to learn: They taught you that people aren’t safe, that vulnerability isn’t a risk worth taking, that you’re better off keeping to yourself.
Don’t even look at the trampoline. Walk straight to the trailer. Nobody wants to see your dumb tricks.
If that’s where you are, I can’t guarantee that another group of school kids won’t come along and hurt you. They probably will. But what I can tell you is this: If you will give Christ — and only Christ — the right to determine your worth, you will discover that you are priceless.
Jesus isn’t worried about pleasing any crowd or fitting in with the strong ones. He’s the King who has nothing to lose, because He already gave it all away for you. So it doesn’t humiliate Him to sit next to you on the bus, to look back into your eyes with love. He finds no shame in declaring to all those kids on life’s bus ride: “This one is mine.”
Let Him see your crooked teeth; He will show you His. Let down your mop of wild, wavy hair; He will run His fingers through it and call you beautiful. Throw your backpack to the ground and run like crazy to the trampoline. Do back flips, front flips, or jump around aimlessly — because when you do, you will hear the roar of His voice, all raspy from yelling, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well-pleased.”
If you’d like an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here. You can also keep up with my latest articles (and more) on Facebook or Twitter. This essay originally appeared on my blog in 2013.