I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. “Lord… How and I going to do this?” I thought.
I was about to begin my first full day of shadowing at the school where I would eventually be teaching within a few weeks. The previous afternoon I had narrowly missed being spat on, witnessed one student strike another, and seen staff physically restrain students. There was no doubt I felt called to work with youth who struggled with emotional and behavioral issues – but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a little uneasy about what was to come.
Instinctively, I reached for my favorite cross necklace to put on. Just as quickly I withdrew my hand as I recalled being warned not to wear any jewelry. “Necklaces can be used to strangle you and earrings can be ripped out” a staff person had cautioned at training. I felt a small pang of anxiety knowing I couldn’t wear something which would be of comfort. Then it dawned on me that I was also losing the opportunity to discreetly convey my faith by wearing a cross. Since I wasn’t allowed to speak about my faith, I wondered how people might come to learn what was most dear to me. Before I could form another thought, the chorus of an old Christian folk song came to me “… and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I walked away from the mirror with a bare neck but a heart that felt full and recharged.
Later, on-site at the school, the first bus with students arrived. As the day-treatment students filed in, one large young man stopped the line and broke into a broad smile when he saw me. “Miss Lizzie! Do you work here now?”
“Yes, I do. It’s good to see you!” I replied, smiling back.
I knew the student from a previous residential program – moving to day-treatment was a positive step for him. As he continued to walk down the hall I heard him say to a classmate, “I know her! You’re gonna love Miss Lizzie. She’s cool. She cares.”
The words of the song echoed in my mind again, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…” They will know. Just like the smiling student knew – I cared. I showed God’s love in how I cared.
As the last of the students paraded past me, I followed down the hallway. It was a new school, a new day, a new group of students and I had a heart full of love to share.
Elizabeth Reimers is a Master’s of Special Student at Colorado Christian University.