My older daughter came to me recently, as I was preparing dinner, with a heavy heart. She told me, with obvious distress, that a certain peer was being picked on quite a bit. This particular girl has special needs and I know her from previous years. When my daughter was in kindergarten with this girl, she didn't grasp her struggles. Sure, we would talk about it. But Ella didn't always understand that this girl didn't intend to hurt or be cruel with her actions. Now, Ella is three years older and she gets it. More than that, she is bothered greatly by peers who don't show her compassion.
She was relaying to me examples of how some of her peers treat this girl in the lunchroom, which is the main time Ella is with her. She was upset as she told me story after story. Lunch is a time when the classroom teachers are on their lunch too, so other staff or parents help out. I'm sure it's slightly chaotic and loud and I doubt they are humanly able to be aware of every situation. So I don't hold anyone responsible. But I listened and then I just gently reminded Ella that she can only control her response and actions and that she should remember to show love.
She responded, "I do Mom! I stick up for her. When she asks if she can sit by me, I say 'Sure! I was saving this seat for you!' " Tears in my eyes! I couldn't have felt more proud! I love that this girl must view Ella as a safe person. She then told me about one or two others that are kind to this girl. In that moment, I realized we are raising a leader! She may not be the most popular or fashionable. But she has the heart of a leader. Jesus was that way. He talked to the prostitute. He ate with the tax collector. He was a friend of the sinner. He wasn't particularly liked or accepted by the rulers. He hung out with smelly and foul-mouthed fishermen. He led by loving first...without reservation.
Ella's name is a derivative of "Eleanor" and means mercy. I have laid awake at night crying frustrated tears over struggles with this daughter of mine. At times I've told God we misnamed her. In essence, I was saying "God, you messed up and got it wrong!" We've always prayed and chosen our children's names based on what we believed God had already chosen for them. We've felt strongly in the meanings of our children's names. Mercy: love and compassion. I know that's who God made her to be. But it hasn't always seemed that way, trudging through the trenches of parenting a young--and very strong--child. But yes, she is full of love and compassion...full of mercy. She's a leader.
Now this hasn't and probably won't get her recognized. And that's okay. I am making peace with my previous presumptions and expectations of what a leader looks like. There are many types of leaders out there. I see characteristics of leaders in all of my children, though I truly doubt a single one will ever be the Class President or head of the soccer team. I don't say that with discouragement; they're just not those kinds of leaders. But we are raising leaders.
Tessa is a best friend to whoever she meets. Her favorite barsita in the world--the one she has to run and hug and talk to--is not someone the world would consider lovely. I don't say that with cruelness. It'a simply an observation of what the world around us declares as attractive or acceptable. Yet Tessa loves this gal as if she was the most beautiful person she's ever known. And I see how it makes this gal's day. My Tessa is a leader, leading by love.
Last Thanksgiving, while in downtown Cincinnati with family, my Luke asked if we had money to give a shabby looking fellow holding a can. I didn't know his story but it didn't matter. Luke, and a few of his cousins, desired to bless him. He wanted to lead by love.
Jaden has had some tough situations on a sports team this year. He has felt excluded, criticized, and discouraged. But never once has he retaliated with cruelty. He has been picked on unfairly, but he still looks for the good in another. There was an incident last spring in which I intervened, because he was being mistreated and no one stepped in to defend him. Later, when we talked about this kid who was picking in him, Jaden said "I don't want to say he's mean, because he's not mean. He just gets carried away." Now, mama bear, at the time, thought the kid was a mean jerk! I know, not cool, but true story. Jaden looked for a more loving explanation. He led by love.
My children teach me daily. And what they've taught me, or reminded me of lately, is that leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Sure, some are true extroverts loved by all! Some are awkward and picked on unfairly. But I would rather be raising children who grow into adults who lead by love rather than any other way one can lead. What else matters? True love is selfless. It doesn't wonder what's in it for me? And here's the kicker: I honestly don't think Ron and I can take much credit for any of it. We often wonder what the heck we've done wrong when they disappoint us. But truly, this leading by love thing...it's only by God's grace! I don't always lead by love. I don't want to detail right now how I sometimes lead. So if my children are leading by love, if your children are leading by love (in the many, many ways that can look), then I say to God be the glory!