The Day that Changed My Life

Author Karna Moskalik speaks of her first day of kindergarten, an experience that changed the trajectory of her life.

I have to agree with Robert Fulghum that, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” In fact, all I really needed was just the very first day of kindergarten. This was the day that my life changed forever.

Growing up in a small town, everyone knew each other. As a pastor’s kid, my mom was hopeful that I wouldn’t be a “mean girl.” There was a student in my kindergarten class that could easily be a target for bullying. Right before walking into the classroom, my mother took me aside and instructed me: “There will be a very special girl in your class Karna. I want you to be good and kind to her – and I want you to be her friend.”

This great commissioning excited me. I had no idea what my mom meant by “special.” As if it happened yesterday, I remember vividly that many children were interacting with each other in various areas of the room. There was one girl that was all alone. She sat on the floor while dribbling a basketball. Impressed, I was convinced that she was extremely “special,” as I wholeheartedly believed that “only big brothers know how to dribble.” I walked right up to this classmate and introduced myself. We became fast friends. Kristin could swim by the age of three. She also read more words than anyone else in kindergarten. Her eyes were incredibly expressive—like a Disney character. 

A year later, I realized an additional factor that made Kristin so very special. On the playground, boys were teasing her relentlessly and they used a term I hadn’t heard before: Down Syndrome. I made a pledge to God that day that I would always be Kristin’s friend. When I moved away during high school, we kept in touch. Later, she would be my maid of honor at my wedding. 

Kristin made an incredible impact on my life. She taught me about patience, love and even forgiveness. To this day, she has no recollection of the boys that teased her on the playground. 

What I didn’t realize when meeting Kristin, is that this kindergarten interaction and lifelong friendship has a theological name: “The Little Way.”

As I sat in my first doctoral class at Fuller Seminary, my face flooded with tears as Dr. Richard Beck (my content advisor) explained the story of a kind and quiet sister named Thérèse of Lisieux. This devoted follower of Jesus died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis in the year 1897. When she died, no one knew what to say at her funeral—until they discovered her journal, “The Story of a Soul.” In this treasured writing, she documented her profoundly deep relationship with God. 

Thérèse recognized that even in a place like a convent, there were extreme divisions and factions among the sisters. Some were treated with honor. Others were treated with disdain. As she wrestled with her calling, she meditated on 1 Corinthians 12. She wondered where she fit in Christ’s body. She couldn’t be the feet of God—she was a cloistered nun. She was not allowed to be the voice or hands of Christ as she was not allowed to preach or preside. Then she read on in 1 Corinthians 13 of a more “excellent way—love.” She dedicated her life to be the heart of God in the Body of Christ. 

In particular, she developed what she called, “The Little Way.” This way of embodying God’s heart is so accessible to all people of all time. Overnight, she became a Saint and even a Doctor in the Roman Catholic Church. There are only 36 Doctors in Catholicism– or Theological Heavyweights of this caliber. Thus, her contributions hold just as much prominence as Anselm and Aquinas. 

Her “Little Way,” made a massive impact in the next century. Dorothy Day began homes for the homeless. Mother Teresa of Calcutta changed her name from Anjeze to Teresa in honor of her spiritual hero. When Mother Teresa said we are to do, “small things with great love,” she is really quoting Thérèse of Lisieux theological framework.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was inspired to lead a non-violent Civil Rights movement—also based on, “The Little Way.” Gandhi was also inspired by this thread of understanding the heart of God. 

As I look at our fractured world, how would it be different if we all embodied the heart of Christ today? The agape Christ-like love found in 1 Corinthians 13 is so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive in today’s interactions. Kindness is rare. Patience is obscure. Meanwhile arrogance, pride, envy and blame are found in abundance.

In a world where everyone wants to be the best, what would it look like to enter in the conversation with a grace beyond measure? Even the Zebedee brothers (and their mother) asked Jesus if they could sit next to him in his glory. Jesus instead demonstrates a more excellent way—love. The greatest is love.

We need faith on this side of heaven to take the next step in our lives. We need hope that fills us with resiliency when life is challenging. Love is the greatest because it is eternal. In heaven—love will be all that remains. Love is “The Little Way.”

My first day of kindergarten changed the trajectory of my life. Sitting in my first doctoral class gave me a deepened understanding of the significance of that day. Dr. Richard Beck parses out 4 major steps to “The Little Way:” 

  1. See (recognize your surroundings and be fully present)
  2. Stop (your internal dialogue and notice everything)
  3. Honor (as you see the person before you, recognize that they too are created in the image of God)
  4. Approach (interact with the person before you with God’s grace and love)

As this understanding of “The Little Way,” was articulated, I cried intensely. My mother’s promptings encouraged me to see, stop, honor (she dribbles basketballs!) and approach my lifelong friend. 

My spiritual director also reflected on this powerful interaction with me. She asked me, “Karna, when your mother said that there would be a special girl in your class and that you should be good and kind to her and be her friend—did you ever think that this was you?”

We cannot give away what we do not already have. Be kind to yourself. Know that you are God’s beloved. Swim in those waters of grace. May that love of Jesus transform us that it changes our environments too. You are loved extravagantly.

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