My Christmas Valentine

Just a month or two ago, a small handful of church members started serving as Reading and Math Buddies for students at Hogg Elementary School.

I have never done this sort of thing before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was assigned to a third-grader named Jaylen. She’s quite small for her age, and she struggles to read. Every week, I sit with her for almost an hour and help her sound her way through first-grade readers.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling under the weather and called in sick to Hogg; but I showed up last week and went to find Jaylen. Her teacher said, “Boy, is she glad to see you! She was worried that you weren’t coming back.”

And out came a bouncing Jaylen with a big smile on her face. She handed me a small card made out of purple cardboard paper. On the front, she had written, “Ho ho ho ho.” On the inside, she had drawn a picture of a rose and the words “I love you” inside a pink heart. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to mean, but I’m calling it my “Christmas Valentine.”

Then she said, “I’m sorry but I couldn’t remember your name. So I didn’t know what to put on the card.”

I laughed and told her my name. She said she won’t remember it. She says that a lot actually. It’s what she says when she can’t figure out a word. She says, “I always forget!”

And I assure her that, with practice, she’ll remember and become a better and better reader.

That small exchange made my week. I have the card on my desk, and every time I look at it, I remember that it doesn’t take much to make a big difference for someone else. You don’t have to travel halfway across the world, or write checks with lots of zeroes. You don’t even have to have a special skill.

Sometimes all you need to do is give a little bit of your time away. One hour per week in a classroom is all I need to give in order to put a smile on Jaylen’s face. Isn’t that amazing? Who would have thought that such a simple gesture could make such an enormous difference? Who could have known that creating a new relationship could be life-changing? It’s so easy that it doesn’t even feel like “volunteering” or “missions.”

Maybe that’s because it’s meant to be ordinary and easy. The life that God has given us is profoundly relational; it is meant to be shared with others. It doesn’t feel like work when we live life the way God intended it to be. Perhaps we make the life of discipleship more difficult than it’s supposed to be.

Maybe there is nothing more Christian than making a new friend, nothing more Jesus-like than opening a relationship with a stranger.

Who will your new Christmas Valentine be this year?

Click here to learn more about becoming a Reading and/or Math Buddy at Hogg Elementary School.