It’s 1954. Central Elementary School. Shenandoah Iowa.
It’s third grade recess. We boys are playing kickball. The girls are standing around acting silly, gossiping, whispering, . On the sidewalk Betty Jean Davis is standing alone watching. No one is paying her any attention.
Every class has a Betty Jean. Our Betty Jean was poor. Her only dress is faded and a disheveled Goodwill-hand- me down. Hair’s a mess and unkept. She is sad and very alone. Then the teasing started. The girls were unmerciful and cruel. Betty Jean started laughing at the mocking. She’d rather be laughing with her tormentors than feel the awful sting of shame coursing through her body.
One by one a few of the boys peel away and join the girls teasing Betty Jean. I’m ashamed to say that on this particular day I was one of them.
My mom, who’s spiritual gift was mercy in spades, scolded me that night. “God never teases anybody, Steve,” she said. “God loves everybody, especially children. He loves Betty Jean as much as he loves you, or me or your dad. Now tomorrow when you get to school I want you to apologize to Billy Jean and tell her you’re sorry for teasing her. And I’d better never hear of you ever teasing anyone ever again.”
Well I didn’t apologize. I told mom I apologized, but never confessed to her that I lied.
I didn’t apologize to Betty Jean then but I would fall all over myself apologizing to her today. I have to admit, I’ve carried a degree of shame and regret around with me for 60 years.
Mercy is my main spiritual gift today, in part from the compassion God has given me. My heart breaks when I see or hear of children suffering. I have carried a soft spot for Betty Jean since the third grade.
Betty Jean, I wish I knew where you were today. I would ask you to forgive me and hug your neck and tell you how much Jesus loves you. Hopefully you already know. I would love to be brother and sister in Christ with you.
The first day of fourth grade Betty Jean didn’t show up. No one including the principal or teachers ever knew what happened to her or her family.