A Voice in the Shadowlands

Remembering Jake

The last few days I’ve been thinking about an old friend of mine. This year, if everything went right, he should be in fourth grade by now. When I last saw him, he was in kindergarten and I was his drama teacher. His name was…well, we’ll call him Jake and I think he actually taught me more than I could ever teach him.

Jake was completely ADHD and more boy than his body could handle. If he managed to sit still for thirty seconds, he was about to explode. The first day I met him, he came in with his class he asked me if he could sit in a chair instead of the floor like the rest of the class.

“No, buddy, I’m sorry. That chair is only for the kids who have to go time-out.”

He shrugged and replied, “Oh, that’s OK. I’ll be here a lot.” He was right.

About half-way through the year, I had an epiphany. I needed to change my approach with Jake. So, Jake and I struck a deal. He was going become my shadow. As soon as he came in the class, he would glue himself to my side and follow me wherever I went. That way, when he was starting to get antsy, I could find an excuse to walk around, or reach over and touch his shoulder to remind him he needed to check himself. Some days were better than others. Some days were a LOT better than others.

ADHD kids are special. Like the John Mayer song (yes, I am going to quote John Mayer), they’re bigger than their body gives them credit for. There’s so much life that it just spills out all over themselves, the room, and anyone in the vicinity. They’re a challenge and not everyone is up for it. Jake’s teacher wasn’t up for it. Like most ADHD kids, Jake was told that he was bad. Now, we’re all fallen and I agree with the verse that says not one person is good, but as far as being truly bad, most five-year-olds don’t fall in that category. Hitler, yes. A hyperactive kindergartner with a screwed up family life? Most likely, he just needs some patience, constancy, and a rudder. Almost daily at school, though, Jake go the verbal smack down that he was bad. I’ll admit that I had a soft spot for Jake. Mostly because I was a talkative, bouncy kid who spent the majority of first grade standing with his nose in a corner because of said talking and bouncing.

One day, there came a breaking point. To be honest, it was a day where it was hard to teach and most of it was due to Jake. His teacher dropped him off telling him he was bad and when she arrived to pick up the class, she picked right up where she left off. The class left and I set about doing teacherly things. After a minute, I looked over to the door to see if it was closed (For all the talking teachers give about closing doors, they’re some of the worst violators of that rule). As I expected the door was open. What was unexpected was the little, blond crying ball in the doorjamb – Jake.

I went to see what was wrong. Jake turned to me and through his tears said, “Mr. A, am I a bad boy? I don’t want to be bad. Teacher says I am. I don’t want to be bad. I just want a good day. Just one good day!” If there were any words after that, they were drowned out by tears. Almost crying myself, I told Jake that No. He wasn’t a bad boy. He was a wiggly boy. And that was O.K. because boys were supposed to be wiggly, except that some them needed a little extra help. That was what I was there for. Together we could help him have good days in drama.

It worked, most of the time. The day came when I felt like Jake could handle sitting with the class and stop being my shadow. We discussed this and Jake grudgingly went along, or so I thought. I became convinced that day that Jake was channeling hellfire that day. At the end of the class, Jake came up to me.

“Mr. A, do you want to talk to me ’bout my ‘havior?”

“What do you think, buddy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“‘Cause I was bad.”

“Do you know why you were bad?”

“Cause I wanted you to like me again. When I was bad, you liked me. You wanted me near you. Now, you don’t like me any more. You only like me like the rest of the class now.”

I never knew if I got him to understand, but I explained that I liked him just as much as I always did. I saw him get to be able to behave and was proud of him and wanted him to show me he could be just as good as the rest of the kids. If he ever needed me, he would know I was right there.

This was a long story, I know, but I swear there is a point. You see, I feel an awful lot like Jake a good portion of the time. I’m sure a lot of you are, too. No matter how much I try to be good on my own…I can’t. I tell myself I’m bad. The world tells me I am. There just doesn’t seem to be a way to have that golden “One Good Day.” God knows that, though. He looks at all of us and reminds us that we can’t achieve it on our own. We desperately, totally have to have him guide us in this. When we follow him, we can get our acts straight and set our houses in order. It doesn’t mean it’s easy, just that if we follow our Teacher, it’ll work out all right.

Sometimes, though, when everything is good and we’ve been following along, God seems so far away. Occasionally, it’s our natural drifting because we get too comfortable. I often think that sometimes, though, God seems far away just to help us remember that we need to always be trusting and leaning on him. When he seems distant, that’s our cue not just to trust him but to search for him. I know that too many times I pull a Jake and try to act up because I figure even if I attract God’s anger, well, at least I’m getting attention from him. That, my friends, is not how it’s supposed to be…but then again, in the eyes of eternity, we’re all kindergartners.

So, while I try to remember the lessons Jake taught me, maybe you can pick up something from a kindergartner, too.

Jake, wherever you are, I think of you and thank God that for a school year we crossed paths. Always remember to be the Great Teacher’s shadow.

Pax

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