“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
Snowflakes drifted in the sky. A cold wind from the north whistled against the bricks of our classroom. My six behavior-disordered fifth grade boys and I enjoyed the cozy warmth of our office size classroom. We were making Christmas cards for the local nursing home as part of an all-school project.
“You can make a cutout of any traditional Christmas symbol for the cover of your card. What would we use? That’s right, Darius, a bell like the Salvation Army rings outside the grocery store. A wreath. Good, Juan.” Both items quickly appeared as chalky sketches on the blackboard.
“How about a star?” I suggested, turning to the board and quickly executing a five pointed star with a puff of chalk.
Total silence from the students behind me. Then a frantic whisper.
“Erase that, Mrs. Lampos.”
“You sure be in big trouble if the principal sees that.”
“Gang signs are illegal in school, Mrs. Lampos. Everyone knows that.”
With one swipe of the eraser, the offending star disappeared from the board.
Always creative and determined, I raised my chalk once more. “There’s another way to make a star.”
With geometric precision from years of practice, two equilateral triangles produced a six sided star. “This is the Star of David. You’ve probably seen it on the flag of Israel during the Olympics.” Stepping aside, I let the class view my latest offering.
The group gasped in unison.
“I’ve only seen that star on the side of buildings painted by taggers,” said Darius.
“Erase that one quick.”
“Why?” I asked innocently.
“It’s the sign of our rival gang,” Juan interpreted.
“You’s gonna get us all suspended, Mrs. Lampos. I can’t get in no more trouble with my grandmother, so erase that.” Calvin pointed to the six sided star on the board.
As I erased this star, my heart broke. The Star of Bethlehem that shone over the manger, signaling hope to mankind had been twisted into a symbol of domination and violence. In the neighborhood in which these boys fought to survive, the beauty of the star had been transferred into the ugliness of bloodshed. The star was a gang sign.
Reaching into the memories of a half century of Christmas cards, I remembered another version of the Nativity star. Turning to the board, I chalked a four-sided elongated star, adding beams of light from the sides. Lifting my eyebrows, I waited for comments.
“That star’s okay,” said Darius.
“No gang around here has that kind of sign,” said Juan.
“Okay. A star can be a Christmas symbol that our older citizens will recognize. There is construction paper and glitter on the back table. Choose something you can make and do a good job.”
As the boys began cutting and pasting, I walked among their desks, silently praying. “Lord, in their drug infested, bullet-ridden existence, let my students find the Prince of Peace. Let the Star of Bethlehem illuminate their lives with Truth. Help them to learn the Christmas message.”
Hearing my footsteps, Darius lifted his head from his work. He smiled radiantly towards me as he held up his construction paper card. A yellow four-sided star shone from excessive glitter against a midnight blue background. Underneath, in white pencil, Darius had written, “Merry Christmas”.
“Suddenly I was asking myself: ‘Suppose you were to be granted a wish for these kids. What would be the one best thing you could hope for? And I knew my answer: that they could begin life all over again, with the fresh and innocent personalities of newborn children. And more: that this time as they were growing up they could be surrounded by love instead of by hate and fear…But it would take a miracle. A series of miracles such as I’ve never seen.”
-Dave Wilkerson, Founder of Teen Challenge
Today’s blog is a chapter from the book, Teaching Diamonds in the Tough, by Cleo Lampos, published by Lighthouse of the Carolinas and available on amazon.com
Photo credits: https://pixabay.com/en/crayons-coloring-child-color-1209804, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/lens-flare-sun-flare-flare-on-the-black-background-photo-p640377, https://pixabay.com/en/kids-painting-school-drawing-draw-2985782/