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Heart Matters: The Plain Girl

I wasn't a pretty child. I was chubby; I had glasses; I had braces. As a preteen, feeling unattractive was fairly traumatic for me. The well-meaning comments that frequently reminded me that I was the smart one and my sister was the pretty one didn't help a whole lot. Cheerleading, student council, and even just getting a plum first-row seat in the class photo (these always went to the pretty, petite girls) all seemed out of reach for me, the plain girl.

Then one day I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for our teacher to arrive. Mrs. Raynor was dramatic and lovely, supremely self-confident in a way I never dreamed I could be. On that particular day, she walked in, saw me sitting quietly in my seat, put her hand on my shoulder as she smiled warmly, and exclaimed, "You are so cute!"

She didn't linger, but walked on by to begin class. I, however, was stunned by her comment. If she hadn't put her hand on my shoulder when she spoke, I wouldn't have believed she was referring to me. I knew I was smart. I knew I was capable -- even creative and hard working. But cute?

No one had ever described me as cute. And I'd certainly never felt that way. Quite the opposite -- I was the uncute, but smart, capable, creative, and hardworking girl sitting quietly in the corner.

Twenty-five years later I still frequently think back to those simple words Mrs. Raynor spoke to me. I remember them vividly, as if she'd just said them today. Did she ever realize the impact her words had on me? Or the hope they gave me that someone saw my physical quirks as endearing rather than lamentable?

No, Mrs. Raynor probably never knew the impact of her words -- nor did she imagine how those words would change me. Her simple, genuine kindness changed the way I interact with my Sunday school kids today. Because of her, I make it a point to say words of grace to each child in my class, hoping and praying that I choose just the right words the child needs to hear at that moment.

It's so easy to say, "You're very creative!" "That's the smartest comment I've heard all day!" "That sweater is just your color!" or "Your hair is so pretty."  

In just a few seconds' I've seen children's self-confidence grow -- perhaps for a lifetime. A child's surprised smile after such a compliment tells me I'm on the right track.

I think of Jesus and how he had a knack for telling others what they needed to hear. He looked beneath the obvious and spoke words that fulfilled people's deepest longings.

There are certain things each of us needs to hear -- even if we don't always know it. Our kids -- especially our kids -- are the same. The plain girl, the pretty girl, the lonely boy, the brainy boy -- they all need our insightful compliments, words of grace, and specific encouragement. When we give children these small gifts, expressing our appreciation for who and what they are, the gifts they receive are immediate and far-reaching. In turn, we'll get an instant smile -- and joy in knowing we've put a positive fingerprint on a child's life.

Susan Braun is a Sunday school teacher in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

What's on Your Heart?

Send your 500-word story to "Heart Matters," Children's Ministry Magazine, P.O. Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539-0481. If we publish your article, we'll pay you $125.

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