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Breaking Barriers with Kindness: a faith based Christmas story from the Story Powerline
Thursday, December 10, 2020 by Laura Jane Cerling

“Oh Helen, please Helen, don’t smile,” I pleaded silently. “If you do, the teacher will just get madder.”

Helen Zenkovich sat directly across from me in 7th grade social studies in Elmhurst, Illinois, back in 1933. I watched her body stiffen and her mouth begin to widen. Sure enough, Helen’s mocking grin emerged, and Miss Larson’s voice became shriller and shriller.

Helen – in trouble again

Helen also roused the anger of our cooking teacher. Each week we were to have freshly laundered aprons, and then Helen was in trouble again. Once, as we left the class, Hellen hissed to me, “She thinks my mother is a washing machine!”

Helen’s parents had recently moved to America from Russia. Helen had flaming red hair, and she was always in trouble with our teachers. When a teacher started scolding her in front of the class, Helen would start to smile. I hated that smile. It came out as defiance, and it made things worse.

She smiled so she wouldn’t cry, I realized later.

Most of the teachers picked on Helen, but two were kind.

An early, heavy blanket of knee deep snow fell that year, and Helen did not appear in classes all week. Then one day our home room teacher Miss Bell spoke to us about kindness and said parents didn’t always have money to buy things for their children. This was the middle of the Depression, and I puzzled over this special lecture about kindness.

Miss Bell’s kind warning

The next day Helen appeared wearing old-fashioned high button shoes that went out in the 1900’s. I decided Miss Bell was warning us not to make fun because Helen didn’t have the zippered “galoshes” (rubber boots) the rest of us had.

Our English teacher Miss White was also gentle with Helen. One day she told us, “Today we have a wonderful surprise. One of your own classmates is going to tell us how they celebrate Christmas in another country.”

Miss White’s kind invitation

Then she said, “Helen, come here and tell us how Christmas is celebrated in the country where you were born.”

I still remember Helen standing proud and tall before the class. A smile lit up her face as she told us of the beauties of a Russian Christmas. And this time her smile was real.

This experience taught me that harsh words can make a situation worse. But kindness will often break down barriers. And later when I grew older and began reading the Bible, I found that St. Paul taught this, too: “Get rid of anger, harsh words…Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted…” Ephesians 4:31-32 (LTV)

Today’s prayer

Dear God, please give me a kind heart when I meet difficult people. Help me to understand their point of view. Amen.

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