When I was young, in the first and second grade, I was a very poor eater. Being a poor eater shouldn’t really be a problem when you come from a poor family. We were so poor, my parents couldn’t afford the price of the school’s cafeteria food. For my brothers, eating a bagged lunch was no problem at all. Boys will eat anything you put in front of them.
Being poor in spirit as well as in appetite, being in the cafeteria filled with the aroma of hot food was a disincentive to eating my bologna sandwich. Day after day I would nibble at my sandwich and bring the remains – and notes from the teacher – home.
All the pleas and arguments and rationalizations about our being poor and having to make sacrifices fell on deaf ears. I grew thinner and thinner until finally my parents enrolled me, to their intense humiliation, in the school lunch program for the poor.
Having found what they believed was a chink in our family armor, my teachers sought to exploit that gap, peppering me with loaded questions about what a bad mother I had. I knew something was wrong; I knew I was depressed. Part of it had to do with my classmates, not my family. As for the rest, I couldn’t put it into words, but I knew very well it wasn’t my parents.
The teachers would ask me leading questions, which I often resisted passionately, defending my poor mother. “We know your mother mistreats you,” they plied. “You can tell us.” To which I would reply, looking at them as if they had three heads, “She does not. She never hits us. Neither does my father. Mom yells a lot, but that’s all.” Then they would write notes to her, quoting me as saying she was a bad mother, when I hadn’t. If my mother and I didn’t have problems, we soon did. Still, I trusted my parents implicitly and had nothing but contempt for my teachers.
When I was older, old enough to be reasoned with, I accepted bagged lunches. These portable lunches allowed me to find someplace quieter and more pleasant than the cafeteria to eat my lunch, away from my bullying schoolmates.
I was in kindergarten the day our state’s Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional; it was my turn to say the milk and cookies prayer. When I was very young, my mother taught me know to kneel down and pray every night to God to thank Him for our blessings. She said I could also pray to Him anytime to ask for help and that He would answer.
Mom was right. In one particularly dire situation, separated from my parents, I prayed to Jesus for help and help arrived just in time. And as we were coming back to our 5th grade classroom from sort of break, I anticipated the resumption of torment. I put my hands together and prayed for deliverance. The bully was right in front of me. He had turned and noticed my folded hands.
“What?” he scoffed. “Do you think you’re so much better than us? Do you think you’re an angel?”
I’d learned not to answer him. I wondered what sort of religious training he’d had, to think that’s why you put your hands together – to give an angelic impression?
‘No,’ I thought. ‘I’m praying to Jesus to deliver me from you!’
The torment resumed only to be interrupted a short time later by mother, who burst through the classroom door, threatening the teacher with termination and the boy with expulsion.
I thank God daily for my parents, who always knew best, and I pray to Jesus for deliverance from a government that clearly does not.