Writings by Cole Huffman

Lunchroom Land

When my kids were elementary school students, I sometimes lunched with them. Gawking children would say to my son or daughter, Your dad is tall! I heard that as often as I saw kids wasting whole trays of food.

I have two dependents still at home, my youngest daughter (high school) and youngest son (middle school). They’re now at the age where Dad’s appearance in the lunchroom would tend to embarrass, even if I went bearing Chick-fil-A, so I don’t tread into their domain.

My daughter has a spectrum disorder. She’s high functioning in it, but it means she has to work at social interaction. For her, a hidden turbine of learned effort powers breezy conversation. I’m sociable enough to fake interest in others, but there is no guile in her. She has applied herself to learning how to ask questions and show interest in pursuit of friendships.

There is probably no greater testing ground to measure one’s progress than a new school. Last year, my daughter began telling us she wanted to attend our large public high school. She was at a small school specializing in her learning needs, but said she wanted to be at a normal (her word) school.

I prayed, many times over, as her first day at the new school approached. The school’s mascot is a dragon, and in my imagination the lunchroom is its lair. Walking by the lunchroom on the day we went to campus to finalize her schedule, I breathed my prayer again: Lord, let her feel normal here. I pray for kids to make room for her. Give her great friends to sit with Day One. Any parent wants that for their child at a new school, but I know the work my girl has put in to “shew thyself friendly,” in the King James timbre of Proverbs 18:24, and I wanted the Lord to reward it straightaway.

Day One: No one sat with her at lunch. She recognized the kids who give tours of the school and sat down with them. Being school reps, they were nice to her.

Day Two: She sat alone, down a few seats from a boy who sat alone. She engaged him in conversation: What did he think of Stranger Things, Season 3?

Day Three: She didn’t see the boy from the day before and sat alone, again.

She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, so don’t you either. Sitting alone in the lunchroom when I was her age would have made me extremely self-conscious, but she is neither anxious about this nor troubled. I’m the one who unleashes the self-pity: Lord, what a simple thing I asked of you! Do you not see!?

I know God uses pain and struggles of all kinds in more ways than I immediately appreciate. And on the scale of pains and struggles, the pecking order in lunchroom land is a minor thing. We’ve known far worse trials in our family. But still, it hurt me knowing my girl is gamely trying and, it seems, finding the game rigged against her. They’re all on their phones, she reported.

The Lord does see. Nobody loves us like He does. Although I want God to drop everything in her lap, the Lord can use as is experiences like high school lunchtime to produce the kind of poise and resiliency I’m seeing form in my daughter. But why, this far in to my faith, do I still want fruits in season without any ground being broken?

There is a second part to Proverbs 18:24, about a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Jesus is ultimately that friend, but He knows we still need friends in this world. We need friends who stick close. But when it doesn’t go according to my script—which was for my daughter to make friends in the lunchroom as instantly as the mashed potatoes are made there—do I still trust the playwright?

My daughter loves story. She wants to be a film director someday, or a novelist. If the Lord grants those desires of her heart, I think she’ll be one of the right people to tell the kinds of stories only a few should ever attempt to tell—human stories that require the teller’s own familiarity with struggle and suffering. Those are the stories that enter the public trust and become appreciated by millions, stories about friendship proven, fears faced, dragons slayed.

I’m praying for her now with words taken from Tolkien, how he described the growth and development of his hobbit Samwise Gamgee, who in the worst of his experiences “felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.”

And Sam was, I recall, a great lover of lunchtime.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 4:35 PM
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