Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hairnets and Halos: The Fairy-Godmother Lunch Ladies

My second daughter, Tesakiah (sounds like "Hezakiah" from the Bible in case you need a little help with the pronounciation), is an 8th grader at Ramay Junior High School.  Yesterday, as I was giving her lunch money for the cafeteria on the way to school, she started telling me about the lunch ladies.

I remember lunch ladies.  Hair nets and grumpy attitudes are the stereotype.  During my school years, I'm not sure I ever overcame the stereotype indoctrination enough to flesh out the true humanity of the hard-working women who were behind both the stereotype and the lunch counter.

Tessa began to tell me about her lunch ladies (actually, one is a "lunch man" but, for the sake of poetic simplicity, I will lump him in with the ladies -- sorry Sir).  It turns out that my daughter's lunch ladies are angels in hair nets instead of halos.  I was so touched as Tessa (short for Tesakiah) told me that these 7 or 8 ladies pass out daily complements like cookies to the kids as they come through the lunch line.  Daily!  Tessa says she receives a compliment EVERY day.  They all do.

Tessa says she is known as "pretty necklace girl" as she often receives compliments on her jewelrey.  This is particularly special to Tessa because she often uses her jewelry to clarify her racial identity and communicate that her heritage is Native American.

The lunch ladies even remembered my first daughter, Emily, noticed the resemblance in Tessa, and remember that Emily ate mostly rolls and cookies during her junior high lunches.  That's an amazing personal touch.

Tessa recounted to me that many times the lunch ladies and their compliments have made her day.  "Even on your worst day...", she explained, the lunch ladies provide a loving boost.

I could just go hug each and every one of the lunch ladies.  In fact, I just might!  The gift they give my daughter in particular and the whole student body in general is priceless!  And the piece of mind they give me, as a mother, that my child is in loving hands during her school day is priceless as well. 

The more I think about it, the more impressed and intrigued I become.  These ladies could just sling peas and glob mashed potatoes on plastic trays and shove them at the kids, get their modest paycheck at the end of the week, and be done with it.  Instead, they make a difference.  That can't just be an accidental convergence of natural complimenters.  I would be willing to wager that this is a conscious effort -- a ministry of sorts.  These ladies must have pointedly chosen to distribute a little love with lunch. 

Those of us over 15 can remember how emotionally fragile we all were in junior high.  We were insecure, unsure, scared and fragile, raw nerves with our guts hanging out -- just trying to figure out, on a minute-by-minute basis, who we were and how we fit into the world.  With our changing bodies and voices, we navigated the social minefield while the world around us became increasingly complex with every increase in maturity.  Not an easy time.

A compliment is a silly little thing.  "I like your shirt" is just a superficial opinion.  But, oh, how it can make one's day!  Ever been trudging through a challenging day or a negative mood and been given a complement only to have it completely spin you in a positive direction?  It can be magic!  There's a lot more to my Tessa than her pretty necklaces but most compliments are more about lifting up the person than about mere ojects and fashions. 
I wonder how the lunch ladies' ministry began?  I'm willing to bet that one of them sat through a sermon at church in which the congregation was encouraged to minister to those around them on a daily basis.  Perhaps a light bulb went on above one hair-netted head!  Serving lunch at a junior high is not glamourous work, but what an opportunity it presents for ministry when several hundred fragile adolescent egos file past you on a daily basis and you figure out a little something you can do to make a difference!  These ladies touch more lives in the course of a week from behind the green beans than most ministers can touch from behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning. 

The lunch ladies may never know exactly how they helped or see the full reach of the impact they had on young lives but their touch is undoubtably precious and far-reaching.  I still remember and cherish the daily positive regard I received from my junior high bus driver (God bless you Dan Dunn!).  He got me off to a good start in the morning and put a salve on the end of some bad days.  I'm sure he has no idea.

This is ordinary magic -- that is, magic found in the ordinary.  I try very hard to remember that God is in every moment and that, in each moment, there is an opportunity to give or to receive the grace of God.  Here is a wonderful example.  God bless the lunch ladies!  The grace of God flows through them.

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