My initiation into serving in an urban elementary school was swift and heartbreaking. 

Tossed about by poverty and neglect, Larry’s family awaited the arrival of sibling number seven. A mother barely thirty and no baby daddies in sight for any of them, life held few promises.


Our second grade class was working on addition with regrouping in math. Each student had unifix cubes, small plastic cubes in different colors that snapped together.

Larry’s chaotic life meant frequent absences which resulted in a desperate lack of academic skills. He was sitting at the front of the room at a small table with a peer helper.

Despite modeling on the board, hands-on manipulatives, and a peer helper, Larry’s attempts met with failure. Falling back on a cheap teacher trick, I offered a package of “Smarties” to students who completed the next problem correctly. 

It was a perfect storm, and Larry’d had enough. 

In the blink of an eye, Larry flipped the table on its side, pushed his helper out of the way, and began launching the unifix cubes at classmates. He threw cubes so hard that several actually burst into pieces.

​It was easy to see that Larry felt like he’d been forced into a corner.


Recently Tom and I flew to visit friends. Awaiting our connection at a major international airport gate, we had front row seats to someone else who seemed to have been backed into a corner.

Notices were posted and broadcast that planes would be boarded in groups of ten instead of the usual twenty. Masks were to be worn at all times. 

An impatient passenger wanted to board the plane just before his group was to be called. He became agitated when the attendant refused him. The attendant was young and perhaps a bit too zealous about doing his job. Despite the passenger’s obvious frustration, he then told him that he must pull up his mask.

The incident went from zero to sixty in a minute. The passenger bolted onto the plane and refused to disembark.

Security was called while the gate filled up with passengers for the next flight. When security arrived, the plane was emptied of the passengers who had already boarded. With standing room only in the gate, the police escorted the frustrated passenger off of the plane.

They almost made it to the concourse when a woman stood up and started filming with her phone. 

My heart broke at the look on his face even as profanity spewed from his mouth. I saw Larry in his eyes, someone who had been backed into a corner.

“So I give you now a new commandment: Love each other just as much as I have loved you. 35 For when you demonstrate the same love I have for you by loving one another, everyone will know that you’re my true followers.”
John 13: 34-35 TPT

Dear Reader, it’s embarrassing to share these stories. It’s also humiliating to recall times I have forced people into corners, perhaps not intentionally, but no less damaging.

​Worse yet, how many times have I stood back and failed to speak up for the one in the corner? I keep asking myself what can I do differently to move forward.

Thank you for the grace, Dear Reader, to allow me to inch out of my comfort zone with a squeaky voice and feeble words. Maybe we can’t all be a Sarita Gupta, or John Lewis. But maybe, just maybe, we can look and sound a little more like Jesus and a little louder in our little corners of the world.

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