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Margaret was in her forties and suffered from bouts of depression and despair resulting mainly from an extremely poor self-image. She just couldn’t see herself as a person of worth. Over the years of her adult life, this image steadily grew worse. Finally reaching out in desperation, she sought the help of a counselor. It was here that she revealed what had happened long ago.

When she was a child, she was pretty average. She received decent grades in school. She was fairly happy. She was liked by her fellow students. That was until one soul-scarring day almost forty years ago. From the first day of class, Margaret and Ms. Garner, her bitter and harsh teacher, didn’t get along. They butted heads constantly. The conflict in this one-room schoolhouse escalated over the years until one fateful day when Margaret was nine-years-old.

That day Margaret frantically raced into class after recess, late again. Ms. Garner was furious. “Margaret!” she shouted, “we’ve been waiting for you! Get up here to the front of the class, right now!”

Margaret slowly walked to teacher’s desk and was told to face the class and then the nightmare began.

Ms. Garner ranted, “Boys and girls, Margaret has been a bad girl. I’ve tried to help her to be responsible but she doesn’t want to learn. We have to teach her a lesson. We will force her to see how selfish she is. I want each one of you to come to the board and write something bad about Margaret. May this will motivate her to be a better person!”

Margaret stood frozen as the students, one by one, began a silent procession to the blackboard. One by one they wrote life-smothering words, slowly extinguishing the light in Margaret’s soul. “Margaret is stupid! Margaret is selfish! Margaret is fat! Margaret is a dummy!” On and on they went, until twenty-five scribblings of Margaret’s “badness” screamed from the board.

It was the longest day of her life. The venomous sentences taunted Margaret as each caustic word was written on her soul. When she got home, she crawled into bed, claiming sickness, and tried to cry the pain away, but the pain never left, and forty years later, she was slumped in a chair in the psychologists’s office cringing in the shadow of those twenty-five sentences. Slowly, Margaret became exactly what the students had written.

Margaret’s teacher knew exactly what she was doing. She knew the power of name-calling. She knew that the children’s taunt, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie!! What people think of us does make a difference in how we see ourselves. Joseph also learned this lesson.

Remember Margaret? After decades of depression and anxiety, she finally got help. It took two years but she was finally at her last session. It had been extremely difficult but she finally was able to extricate herself from her past and smile at her counselor (how long had it been since she smile) and said that she was ready to move on.

“Well, Margaret,” the counselor said softly, “It’s graduation day. How are you?”

After a long silence, Margaret spoke, “I . . . I’m okay.”

The counselor hesitated. “Margaret, this will be difficult but I want you to do one more thing to make sure that you are ready to move on. I want you to go back to your schoolroom and the events of that day. Take your time. Described the details to me as each of the children approach the board. Remember what they wrote and how you felt—all twenty-five students.”

In a way this was easy because Margaret had remembered every detail for every day of the last forty years. Yet, to go through the nightmare one more time took all the strength she had. One by one, she described each of the students vividly, as though she was standing right there again, stopping periodically to regain her composure, forcing herself to face those students one more time.

Finally she was done, and the tears would not stop. Margaret cried for a very long time before she finally heard someone whispering, “Margaret. Margaret. Margaret.” She looked up to see her counselor staring into her eyes, saying her name over and over. Margaret stopped crying for a moment.

“Margaret. You… left out one person.”

“I did not! I have been living with this story for forty years. I know every student by heart.”

“No, Margaret, you forgot someone. See, he’s sitting in the back of the classroom. He’s standing up, walking toward your teacher, Ms. Garner. She’s handing him the piece of chalk and he’s taking it, Margaret, he’s taking it! Now he’s walking to the board and is picking up an eraser. He is erasing every one of the sentences the students wrote. They are gone! Margaret, they are gone! Now he’s turning and looking at you, Margaret. Do you know him yet? Yes, his name is Jesus. Look, he’s writing new sentences on the board. ‘Margaret is loved. Margaret is beautiful. Margaret is gentle and kind. Margaret is strong. Margaret is caring. Margaret has great courage.’”

Margaret began to weep. But very quickly, the weeping turned into a smile, and then into laughter, and then into tears of joy.