by Bond Pittman
Recently I read my kindergarteners the lovely children’s story You Are Special by Max Lucado. It is a tale of wooden people called Wemmicks who spend their days sticking stars and dots on one another--stars for beautiful faces, physical feats, and intellectual exhibitions, dots for clumsiness, chipped paint, and other shameful qualities. The unimpressive Wemmick Punchinello jumps, spins, and climbs in striving for a star, but his failures result in even more dots. Often he receives dots just for having so many already.
Travis is a boy in my class who is in his second year of kindergarten, wears thick glasses to aid a serious vision condition, struggles with fine motor skills and retaining information, and often gets in trouble for impulsive and disruptive behavior. It’s rare for him to sit quietly in one place for more than seconds at a time. But the morning we read about Punchinello was different. He wiggled, rolled on the floor, and made noises during the first few pages, but as soon as Punchinello was introduced, he became still and quiet. He listened as Punchinello met Lucia, a Wemmick without a single star or dot sticking to her wooden frame, who tells Punchinello she is unmarked because she visits Eli the woodcarver every day. Travis looked attentively upon the picture of Punchinello walking up the hill to the woodcarver’s home. He stayed silent as Punchinello almost changed his mind and ran away, but Eli called out to him by name, drawing Punchinello into his presence to learn two truths that begin to transform him: Punchinello is special and loved because he is created by and belongs to Eli, and the dots and stars only stick if they matter to the Wemmicks who receive them. “The more you trust my love,” Eli says, “the less you care about the stickers.”
Travis listened attentively to the end of the story, but throughout the rest of the day he had incidents of pushing and kicking other children, angrily throwing his school materials across the room, and running away when I called his name. After this last episode, I was at the frayed end of my rope, and I took him to visit the principal. We walked in silence, me fuming and fretting over how to get through to him. Suddenly he stopped, and with his eyes on the ground, whispered, “Miss Pittman?” “Yes, Travis?” I said. “Am I Punchinello?”
For a moment, shocked by the question and this vulnerability he’d never shown, I said nothing. Then I got down on my knees, eye level with him, and took his hands.
“We are all Punchinello,” I said. “Do you remember what Eli the woodcarver told Punchinello? He told him he is loved and special just because he made him, and he doesn’t make mistakes when he makes his people. Do you know who made you, Travis?”
“God. I don’t know why but he made me a bad kid. And I think he hates me because he’s mad at me.”
Because I teach at a Christian school like Anthem, I had the gift of having a conversation with Travis that many teachers are not free to have. We talked about God’s unconditional love and what it means to be made in the image of God. We talked about that bad feeling we get when we do something wrong, and how it’s meant to guide us to repentance and forgiveness rather than make us hide in shame.
In a growing secularized world, where we are all too often like Wemmicks concerned with the trivial and transient, classical Christian schools like Anthem choose to turn their attention to that which is permanent and transcendent. Anthem Classical Academy is a place that will boldly proclaim the truth of God’s unconditional love, the manifestation of that love found in the person of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness He gives to those who seek it, and the meaningful adventure He offers to those who will trust and follow Him.