I’m so happy to introduce you to Cara Meredith: a writer, a mama, a woman with wisdom and a great love for people, and a wicked sense of humor. I’m so glad she is telling her story of Words that Changed Her World. Leave her some comment love, won’t you?
I was in the sixth grade, at the top of the elementary school totem pole, unable to climb any farther. Soon, we twelve-year-olds would become middle school bottom-dwellers, our nightmares of being stuffed into trashcans and left overnight in lockers the most certain of realities, we earnestly believed. But for now, the world was my oyster. I could ascend no higher, for I held pure power in my hands.
We were, as I’d later learn upon working with middle school students, completely egocentric in and of ourselves. The world revolved around our wants and our needs, our desires and our whims. We were toddlers stuck in morphing, pre-pubescent bodies, laughing not at Sesame Street but at the underground whispers of the two-week “Sexual Education for Early Adolescents” course. So maybe that’s why her words caught me so off-guard.
You see, there still existed an innocence and a naiveté, a shroud of mystery that hung between teacher and student. To me, Mrs. Johnson walked on water – she could do no harm. Granted, I didn’t think she lived in the back closet of room 26 anymore, but I also didn’t believe she likely had a life outside of the classroom.
So there we found ourselves, probably on a Friday afternoon, the day and time all late elementary school teachers dread for the itchiness that comes with itchy pre-teen angst. Throwing her hands up in the air in final feeble attempt, she handed us the ball, she finally let go of matriarchal reigns: as per the weekly writing exercise, we were to bare our souls in spiral-bound notebooks. And I wish I still had a copy of that fuchsia-colored diary, but to her I wholeheartedly scribbled a lamentation that sounded something like this:
Mrs. J, here’s the deal: I’ve been in the kids’ choir at church since I was a little girl. I’ve grown up there, and I’ve performed in every single musical since first grade. I think. And I’ve had solos and leading roles, too. But all of the sudden, this new girl started going to church, who’s only been going there for like a year, and the choir director gave HER the lead role. SHE got all the main solos, not me – and I have a better singing voice than her! It’s so not fair!!!
I fumed. I pounded my fists. I probably used not four, but ninety-four exclamation points, one for every sentence – because in my mind, this was nothing short of righteous indignation. I had every right to be upset, for my throne had been usurped! Hadn’t I served my due time at our little Baptist church?
When her response came just a few days’ later, her words were simple: “Cara,” she wrote, “bloom where you are planted.”
I remember staring at her rounded, loopy handwriting, perplexed as to why she hadn’t joined in my fight. My cheeks burned red with anger and then with embarrassment and shame, as her gentle reprimand showed me that not all is fair in life. I think I grew up just a little bit in those few minutes of reading her response. And I bet I squirmed more than usual in my chair and didn’t talk much the rest of the school day.
When I think about Mrs. Johnson’s seminal words to me today, I’m grateful for her brave, truth-filled response. I think about the cheesy classroom poster with those same words I found in a teacher store years later, the one I hung on my wall when I too taught between four walls. I think about the teenagers I generously passed her sage advice along to, pointing to the poster’s archaic, faded flowers. But mostly, I think about how her response changed me, for the better. Even if, in the moment, I don’t always remember that wherever I am, there I am, her words still haunt and change me, for the better.
Former high school English teacher turned youth minister, Cara is learning what it means to be, as a full-time mama and free-lance writer and speaker. She holds a Masters of Theology degree (Fuller Seminary), and is currently tweaking away at her first book. She loves pretending to be a foodie, being outdoors and trying to read seven books at a time (although never very successfully). She lives near San Francisco with her HBH (Hot Black Husband), their son, “Cancan,” and a second baby boy set to arrive late this summer. Cara blogs at www.carameredith.com (be, mama. be), or you can find her on Facebook or Twitter @caramac54.