By Ellen Dodson
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Jason, one of the misfits in my fourth grade class wore the same dirty orange and brown plaid shirt and high water blue jeans daily. Usually his sad, cautious brown eyes hid under oily, unkempt red bangs. He was tall and thin, but, rather than walking upright he hunched and rounded his shoulders as if cocooning his heart. He also had a way of either keeping his arms locked to his sides or crossing them over his chest to pocket his hands under his arms. Perhaps he carried himself this way to try to trap the body odor that repelled us. His hoarse, raspy voice almost seemed more like an adult‘s than a child‘s. When teachers or his classmates spoke to him, which was rare, he looked around as if disoriented before answering in the fewest and simplest terms.
Even then, as young as I was, I knew it wasn’t Jason’s fault that he lacked good grooming. I also knew that, collectively, our class should find ways to include, rather than ignore him. And, I knew that I, individually, should befriend Jason. I loved him, not in a crush or with an elevated sense of charity, but with empathy. I understood, to some degree, his kicked around, stray dog ways. Although my peers rarely blatantly ignored or mistreated me, they certainly didn’t waste precious play time trying to chip away at the timid girl’s exterior when so many other children, far more fun than I, required no prompting. Often during recess, especially in first and second grades, I walked the circuit of the playground alone until, mercifully, the teacher blew the line-up whistle. I understood loneliness and isolation.
But, my desire to be liked by more of my peers eclipsed my love for Jason. Befriending him, I feared, would alienate me even more from others. So, I ignored him and watched the girls flicking their French braids as they jumped rope and sang out, “Cinderella dressed in yella went upstairs to kiss her fella. Made a mistake, kissed a snake. How many doctors did it take? One, two, three . . . “ Sometimes I sidled up beside them, mimicking their behavior as best I could, but, despite their casual friendliness, I couldn’t seem to penetrate my way into what I perceived to be a sisterhood.
I tried the boys too. A few of them chased girls around the monkey bars and the long slide, so one day I stood next to the bars, sort of soliciting myself, and almost died of Who-me?-ecstasy when I heard one of them say in a throaty, villainous voice, “I’ll chase you!” I took off running, looking back to see him change his course to chase after another girl., one who was always chased.
My memory of Jason might have faded completely if my sister Elaine hadn’t shared her story about him at some point during our college years. She told me that one day in middle school she was selected captain of one of the kickball teams in gym. She held the power to accept or reject some of the strongest, most popular athletes calling out her name, wanting her to pick them first. It sounds like a cliché, as I’ve seen similar team selection scenarios played out on television, but Elaine’s story is real. Her eyes and voice softened as she said, “I looked at everybody raising their hands and noticed Jason just sitting there. He never got picked first, always last. Ellen, I don’t know what came over me, but, at that moment, I didn’t care about anybody else in that room but Jason.” As she called his name, she said he smiled so big and seemed so genuinely happy that it didn’t even matter to her that everyone else dogged her for picking him. Nobody but Elaine wanted Jason, who wasn’t very athletic by the way, on their team.
One of the most joyful moments of my life occurred last November when I received a long letter from Elaine. She explained to me the circumstances that brought her to her knees and moved her to call on Christ and accept him
as her Savior. I had to stop reading her letter five times in order to replenish my tissue supply and pull myself together enough to continue reading.
Elaine’s letter illustrates how, when we come to Christ we’re able to look back on our lives and remember little supernatural details we missed or dismissed before. As a Christian, I’m constantly reminded to “sow seeds,” offer my testimony to lead people closer, even if just a few more centimeters closer, to Christ. I think Christians are most successful at this--usually because we’re more loving and less impatient-- when we let the Holy Spirit guide us. But, given my own experiences and those I’ve heard from others, I also know that the Holy Spirit is often sent straight from God to work directly on unsaved hearts. In other words, God works one-on-one with us too. The second time Elaine shared her Jason story with me, it was in the letter and, it was no longer just a poignant story, but a powerful testimony of God‘s love:
I believe in the supernatural/coincidences you spoke of. Remember my story about Jason in middle school? God was not in me Ellen or acting through me--at that moment there was no me. I was just God’s vessel to touch a suffering boy and let him know that He was present. I can say that I have never known such purity and weightlessness in all my life. The “me” that I know in the secular world is nothing compared to the little firefly sparked from God’s light that I would like to be. I can’t say anymore about this because I don’t know how to express it in words.
I’ve never liked the term “misfit” but, turns out, it’s the most precise term for most of us. Most of us can empathize with Jason and with each other. Most of us have felt passed over, invisible, and inferior on some or many occasions. Usually this kicked around attitude disappoints God because it indicates a lack of faith in Him when we let peoples’ opinions--rather than His--control how we view ourselves. But, He must also want us to experience alienation enough to cultivate an understanding and tenderness for the lonely and lost. And, He must also want us to victoriously consider ourselves “misfits” because, in fitting in less with this world, we’re recognizing that our true home is with Him.
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