Several years ago, I went for a massage. I was looking forward to a wordless hour, peaceful and calm while my tensions were smoothed away. The woman who was to give me my massage asked me about my work and life, and at the time I was a social worker for the state and a part-time youth minister.
A few silent minutes later, she asked me "I hope you don't mind me asking, but... what do you think about CHINS? Do they work?" A CHINS at that time was something you could file for in court if your family was in crisis but the kid wasn't breaking any laws and it wasn't a straight out neglect or abuse case. It stood for CHild In Need of Service. (Of course it should have been called a FINS: Family In Need of Service but that idea hadn't caught on by then- maybe it has by now.)
The massage therapist went on to tell me that her granddaughter was out of control, spoiled, didn't know how great she had it, and the girl's parents were at their wits end. They were considering calling the court to have her put on probation, or maybe sent away to a group home. She wondered if I thought that would bring her granddaughter around- would it make her thankful for what she had, if she'd lose it?
I wanted to stay silent and enjoy my massage, but I had that familiar burning that meant I had a message for her. I said "I think that filing a CHINS on her, and sending her away from the family will only convince her that her family hates her and has given up on her." She was, of course, taken aback. This was not the answer she was expecting from a social worker.
I suggested that this girl needed her family to take her in, take her on, be her hero. Instead of throwing up their hands in disgust, they needed to commit to doing whatever it took to bring this girl back in and love her, no matter what. I told the grandmother that she could love this girl back into the family. I suggested that she start spending more time with her, that she become the granddaughter's champion. And I suggested that maybe volunteering for people in need, AS A FAMILY, might help her better understand how blessed she is, how good she had it. I suggested they start attending church together.
She thanked me and finished my massage, and I gave her my card, and said that if there was any way I could help I'd be happy to, and that I'd be praying for them.
Many months later, maybe even a couple of years later, I got an email from the grandmother, thanking me. She said her granddaughter had come around, things were better, they were happier.
It makes me think about how easily frustration and anger can overtake our other emotions, blind us to other options we have, close off avenues that we should by rights be able to see. Negative energy, I think, is like a cancer, and we have to be vigilant at keeping it at bay. I have a bumper sticker in my office that says "Teach them Love." I think it's a good reminder for us as teachers and as learners. Love must be our first response, and love can change the world.