“I can’t make you any promises except one-I promise to do my level best.” This speech during student government elections was a refreshing change of pace from most of the other speeches, litanies of promises the students couldn’t possibly fulfill.
I didn’t know her well, but I loved Molly from that very moment, this small girl with a perpetual smile, this girl who has learned early in life to only makes promises she can keep.
It’s no secret that many of the students at the school have difficult lives, but the joy that pushes through heartache and even terror never ceases to amaze me.
On Sunday morning my son, Martin, was preaching at the school church service. His message was on forgiveness, even forgiveness for your worst enemies. It was here that both of those words ‘enemy’ and ‘forgiveness’ took on a whole new shape for me. Martin asked those in attendance who were harboring unforgiveness to publicly stand up and say who they were forgiving.
The principal of the school stood. “I’d like to go first. I’ve been struggling to forgive the men who murdered my brother a few months ago.”
Whoa, talk about leading by example.
The students came in droves and started to talk about who they were forgiving. Molly walked to the front of the classroom that was functioning as a makeshift church. She stood in the back of the group, the top of her head barely gracing the shoulders of her peers.
One by one the students came forward, but Molly waited. She waited with a smile on her face for over an hour until finally she was the last one standing. She took a deep breath.
“Today I forgive my uncle for what he’s doing to me. He doesn’t want me to go to school, doesn’t think girls should go to school,” she paused here and tears streamed down her cheeks. She took a deep breath and continued. “He doesn’t want me to go to school and every time I go home he tries to kill me, or sends other men to kill me. Today I forgive him.”
I was frozen with horror, the lump in my throat blocking the hot anger rising in my stomach.
My son, Martin, enveloped her in a hug and as a congregation we prayed for Molly’s safety. As the students reached out their hands and prayed loudly, I prayed silently, a prayer of thanks for this school that keeps Molly safe and for the principal who actively seeks protection and justice on her behalf.
At the conclusion of the service many of my kids, both big and little, came to hug me. In the crowd, I didn’t see Molly until she slipped under my arm. I hugged her tight, holding her at what the kids call “zero distance”. Zero distance hugs are forbidden between students of the opposite gender. They’re reserved for close friends of the same gender and for family. I was neither to Molly, but as I felt her tears wet my shirt, I kept holding her tight. Even though I wasn’t her mama, in that moment I was a mama and I held this little shaking girl and kissed the top of her head while she cried. I felt my own tears fall and neither of us said a word. We didn’t need to.
I don’t know how long we stood like that. It was long enough for her tears on my shirt to spread in a ring the size of a large platter and long enough for most of the other students to leave the building. When we separated, she looked up at me and smiled and we both wiped tears from our eyes. I squeezed her one last time before she left.
Molly often comes to me in my dreams and I wake up marveling at the depth of forgiveness this tiny girl possesses. I think of her campaign promise to her fellow students to “do her level best” and as I untuck myself from the canopy of my mosquito net, I pray that I’ll be able to do the same, specifically when my level best means forgiving my worst enemies.