Holding It Together

One shouldn’t underestimate the power of a paper clip.

I sat down at my computer Friday morning to see how much e-mail and coffee I could take in before the first bell rang. I didn’t get through much because the message at the top of my inbox was addressed from a student who graduated two years ago.

She was on my newspaper staff during her senior year. She was an instigator.

That year, my students wanted to hold a retro-themed Valentine’s Day party, and she was one of the leaders. They organized a carby carry-in and decorated brown paper bags until they weren’t brown anymore. Finally, they proudly hung them along the whiteboard of my classroom.

It was just like elementary school. They couldn’t wait to drop their cards and candies into the bags of their loved ones.

Although a staff party seemed to be a sweet and playful idea, the extensive planning did smell of distraction. I was more concerned about meeting our deadline. And I was worried: they weren’t.

So on the evening of the 13th, with the newspaper finally finished, I wasn’t thinking too much about the following day’s festivities. With all of its pre-packaged excess, Valentine’s Day has never been a day I’ve enjoyed thinking too much about. After all, it’s a holiday which comes during a winter flu season — and with just a touch of nausea.

At any rate, the thought of buying Disney-licensed cards and matching chocolates for my newspaper cherubs never crossed my stone cold heart.

Until the next day when V-Day guilt stormed my beaches.

What could I do? I ransacked my classroom, digging through my desk drawers and burrowing through my locker closet for random odds and ends to express my undying and doting affection. For each of them.

Somehow I did it. Or so I hoped.

Back to the email. My former student told me that she had now started her first year at college. She had spent the previous year doing service work in Thailand. But her heartwarming e-mail mostly described that famous (infamous?) staff Valentine’s Day party, which I, until now, had forgotten.

At any rate, I had placed a clear box of colorful paper clips in her bag. She wanted me to know that she was using them to clip her essays together before handing them to her professors. But, more than that, she wanted to thank me for the goodness that she felt in my class.

She assured me, too, that she was still “looking for the good”. That lesson has always been my favorite to teach over the years, so it warmed my heart to know she still had it clipped, snuggly, inside hers.

And I was thankful, too, that I had given her paper clips because those little wiry gadgets have taken on a new meaning during my teaching over the years. When I’ve seen students battle crises, whether I know the details or not, I’ve often quietly slipped them a single paper clip.

“It’s not an ordinary paper clip,” I tell them. “It’s a Paper Clip Prayer. To hold it all together. Keep it with you. I’m praying for you.”

Sometimes that’s all. And then the paper clip goes off into a notebook or a pocket. Or maybe into the trash.

But it doesn’t matter. The paper clips are all out there. And so are my prayers.

22 thoughts on “Holding It Together

  1. This post — and every single comment — is so “feel good.” I’ll never look at those plastic covered colorful jumbo paper clips the same again. So glad to have come by this through The High Calling monthly highlights. Now I’m wishing you’d come teach at Irmo High School; I have three high-schoolers I’d love for you to impact.

    Blessings to you, just because, and because you’re a teacher. :)

    • Thank you, Dawn! I ought to tell you, though, that I often use silver jumbos, too. They work just fine.

      And blessings to you, just because, and because you’re a mother and everything else!

  2. What a beautiful act! Your post touched my heart and challenges me to get more prayers “out there.” I had a few teachers who left their love stamped on my heart. At 50 I still remember and you’ll be remembered, too.

  3. Thank you for sharing this with us. We never know when the tiniest act of kindness will make a difference in someone’s life. I like the picture of the colorful paper clips.
    Blessings,
    Charlotte

    • Your ministry and all of your tiny electronic acts of kindness make a big difference in so many lives, too. Thank you. Your Father is smiling.
      Be well in His Presence,
      Matthew

    • Simple gestures do matter — so much so that we need to become like a child to share them and receive them. I need to remind myself of this each day. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. i’m speechless. i love this. i feel so blessed that i was able to make your day a little brighter, and that you would then use that to inspire others. this entry is so beautiful; it makes me feel silly that all it took was a little email with a little memory, but then again, that’s the beauty of it. living in the joy of the simple things…that’s where real joy is found. thanks for being such a hardcore role model that i can’t mistake what’s driving you and who you’re living and working for.

      • And I resent that you never learned to avoid using “speechless” in your writing! I suppose we’re even now. :)

        But after reading your kind words, now I have to admit that I’m a little speechless myself.

        Talk to you soon (when I get my voice back).

        Mr. K

  5. What an awesome way of showing your care and your prayers in this tangible manner. And what a sweet way of leaving a spiritual legacy in the hearts and minds of those students and others whose lives you’ve touched. I have a grandchild who wants to be a teacher someday. I’ll have to share this with her. Thank you.

    • In whatever job we have, it’s easy to fall into a rut and think we’re not making a difference. But you’re exactly right: we all can shape a “spiritual legacy” — no matter what we do or when we do it. Blessings on you — and your grandchild!

  6. So beautiful…I love that you are a teacher, and are able to share yourself and your Savior with your students, even if in small ways sometimes. Your students are blessed. I just prayed for you!

    • Thank you so much, Jen! Parents sometimes think that public schools are God-less, dangerous, and corrupting institutions. While I understand the concerns to protect their children, the school is still a place for real relationships. And whenever those exist, we have a real opportunity to be salt and light — both teachers AND students.

      Most of all, though, thank you so much for your prayer! I don’t take that lightly! I’m tucking it in my pocket, like a paper clip, and will remember it this week. Thanks for commenting and enjoy
      His Presence this week!

  7. Who knew paper clips could be so much better than a real V-day card? Well, God, I suppose, but how great that you followed that seemingly crazy idea. I love that you use them as symbols of prayer holding life together. Lucky students.

    • Yes, symbols can make a difference — and not just for literary folk! I know your students are lucky, too. Of course, I’ve coined a cute little portmanteau word which I prefer more than “lucky”: Blucky. Blessed and Lucky. Be blucky yourself this week in your classroom, Christa!

  8. This touches my heart, Matthew. You are a living gift to your students. Your student “felt the goodness” in the classroom atmosphere you created! And she thanked you! Be encouraged by her thanks and keep doing what you are doing! It is good…very good! You have a love radiating from your face at times that you may not be aware of. But it is there.

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