Salve for Souls

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


"It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles" (Philippians 4:13, The Message).

 As a shy, overweight child growing up in a working class neighborhood on Staten Island, New York, I always felt like an outsider.  Even in my first-grade class, other children had friends, cliques and little "romances."  Few befriended the unpopular girl they called "fatso."

I remember wishing I could become invisible.  That way the teacher wouldn’t call on me and ask math questions I couldn’t answer.  Classmates would snicker as I struggled and stammered.

After I entered second grade, a new student joined the class.  Our teacher introduced the blond boy with a cherubic face and eyes mature beyond his years.

"This is Michael.  He moved here from California, near Disneyland."

My classmates and I looked approvingly at each other. Michael seemed to come from some magical, faraway land and we all wanted to be his friend. I could scarcely believe his instant affinity for me.

He was always at my side, whether in the lunchroom, the schoolyard, or walking me to and from school.

Michael would also step between taunting classmates and me.  Although gentle, he spoke with authority.

"Leave her alone!  She’s my girlfriend and she’s pretty and smart."

Pretty and smart—me?

My mother had said those words, but that's what moms are supposed to say.  Michael made me wonder if they might be true.

I began inviting Michael to play at my apartment after school.  Each day, Mom greeted us with milk and cookies.  Despite the treats and good times, Michael would keep glancing at the clock, then suddenly run home.

When I asked him why he did this, panic rushed into his voice.

"My daddy wants me home on time! If I'm not there, he'll spank me."

One wintry day as Michael and I played outside, my mother made some shocking observations.  Michael wasn’t wearing a coat.  His shoes had holes.

Rummaging through our closets, my mother pulled out an old jacket of mine and gave it to Michael.  She also gave him an old, but intact pair of my shoes that didn't look girlish.  I was glad to share what I had. 

The rest of that school year, Michael and I enjoyed each other's company.  And when he visited, my mother watched the time for him.  But when school closed for summer vacation, I lost track of Michael.  When classes resumed in autumn, he wasn't there.

"Where is he?"  I asked several classmates.

"I think he moved back to California to be with his mom," one answered, treating me with new respect.

This attitude extended to other classmates.  But I started treating myself with respect, too—talking with and befriending other children.  After school, we’d ride bikes, play stickball and visit each other in our homes.  That year, lasting friendships were made.  No longer did I feel like an outsider.

Even though I continued to struggle with math, I discovered I had other skills, such as reading and writing.  I wished Michael could have shared my joy, especially after I began losing weight.  Although I never saw him again, I knew that even if I remained forever awkward and overweight, Michael would have still been my friend.  He understood my pain, because he knew it so well.  I hoped he was finding a better life and being rewarded for his kindness.

"He was like a little angel," my mother said after he left.

Maybe she was right. Michael came to me just when I needed him and left when his job was done.

This true story is a sample devotion from Flora's devotional book, "Where Your Heart Meets God's," which explores the many ways God whispers our name.
Ebook ONLY $2.99.
Paperback also available.