When I say yes to my biggest fear – the elementary school cafeteria

Some people fear the dark. Or heights. Or snakes, spiders or mice. None of those things make me flinch. But the elementary school cafeteria can send me into a palm-sweating panic.

Last week, one of the pastors from our church posted a casual call on Facebook for more mentors for kids in the community his location serves. Something possessed me to respond. The next thing I knew, I was emailing back and forth setting up a time to meet the second grader who I had been matched with. Anxiety set in. What if this girl didn’t like me? Then I would be stuck in one of the most terrifying places on the planet with someone who doesn’t like me (rejection is my second biggest fear for sure). I lost sleep in the days leading up to my introduction meeting but I made a commitment. And I can’t just not show up.

So I got up and made my way to the elementary school. I prayed the whole way there. And then I took a deep breath and made my way to the main office.

And before I could change my mind, I heard it.

“Hi. You must be Felicia?”

Too late now. No turning back. I was forced to suck it up and follow through. After a quick rundown of the rules and procedures, I was escorted tot he cafeteria at the end of this long hallway.


There it was in all of its glory. Long tables lined with tiny humans spinning around on plastic stools with their styrofoam trays full of….whatever that stuff is. The children are filtering through the line in single file. My breathing was a little irregular, but then I met her.

I met the second grade girl who I instantly fell in love with. I have a sneaking suspicion I will write about her from time to time so let’s call her R. She is 7 years old and the oldest of seven kids. She’s got the weight of the world on her tiny little shoulders but she wears a million dollar smile with pride.

We took turns asking one another questions and making each other smile and laugh. With every answer that precious little girl gave, she stole a piece of my heart. And you know what? She gave me perspective. I don’t know what problems are compared to what R faces on a daily basis.

holding-handsThankfully, we don’t have to eat in the cafeteria. But if we did, I wouldn’t even care. As long as I was with her. When our 30 minutes were up, we headed back down the hallway. At first, my new friend started to prance (yes, she was that full of joy). But then she stopped, looked back to me and stuck her hand out to grab mine. We walked, hand-in-hand, all the way back through that big, scary elementary cafeteria, down the hall and into her classroom to meet her teacher.

As we parted ways, she clung tight and said three little words.

“I love you.”

Whoa. Hang on, kid. You don’t even know me! All of the cynicism in me wanted to sit down and lecture her on not giving her heart away so easily. But then I remembered she’s a 7-year-old girl who is largely responsible for helping her mom take care of her younger siblings in addition to taking care of herself. And all she wants is a caring adult in her life who cares enough to give 30 minutes of their week to her. One-on-one time. Undivided attention. Consistency. All of me. All to herself.

There’s a lot of things I can do in 30 minutes. I can…

  • Write about 2500 words.
  • Watch a television show.
  • Clean almost my whole apartment.
  • Run about three miles.
  • Read 30-40 pages of a book.
  • Catch up on the news.
  • Scroll through social media.

Or I can commit to giving something up to make a difference in the life of R. Saying yes to R requires me to say yes to the elementary school cafeteria. And all of a sudden, that doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. In fact, I can’t wait to see that lunch line again.

And that’s what it will take. Doing it again. Because showing up predictably (consistently) matters. Especially when we do it over time. It shows a kid like R that they are important. That they matter. Even when they don’t feel like it. 

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