Let all that you do be done in love. – 1 Corinthians 16:14


Early one morning, an elderly man was walking on the beach. In the distance, he saw a boy tossing something into the ocean.

As he got closer, he came upon countless starfish scattered in the sand, stranded by breaking waves that washed them ashore. The boy was scooping them up and tossing them, one at a time, back into the sea.

Curious, the old man asked what he was doing. “The starfish will die if they’re still on the shore when the sun rises,” he replied. “But that’s pointless,” the old man said. “There are countless miles of beach and thousands of starfish—it doesn’t matter how many you return to the water, you won’t make a difference!”

Unfazed, the boy bent down, scooped another starfish out of the sand and tossed it into the sea. “It matters to this one,” he said.


I love stories like this one about The Grateful Starfish. It reminds me of what the Lord has given me to do and motivates me to remember why. Jesus tells us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37).

We all know people who are stranded and in need of help. Some needs seem overwhelming, but  we can make a difference … even for just that one.

I’m an instructional assistant at a middle school for 7th and 8th grade. The kids I see are troubled, friendless and even unmotivated. So I have prayed that the Lord would give me selfless love for them and allow me to inspire them.  I find joy in giving friendship to these special starfish within my reach.

My students tend to struggle with mental health issues such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse, learning difficulties or antisocial disorders. Did you know that adolescents aged 12-17 have the highest rate of major depression episodes?

As women, we naturally love, care and serve our families and friends. But what about that unfriendly neighbor, the stranger in line at the store, or—for me, some of my more challenging students.

Last year, a young girl in my class always came to school with long sleeves, no matter how warm it might be. Every day I would greet her at the door and try to engage with her but I always got the same response—which was no response at all. She would walk straight to her desk, lay her head down and make sure it was covered with a hoodie, and make no eye contact. I needed to figure out how to engage in a way that would help me make a connection.

Since the class was 90 minutes and students are allowed fifteen minutes of “me time” at the start, I decided we would spend the first five minutes just taking a walk. As an instructional assistant, I’m able to do this while the teacher supervises the entire class.

At first, our five-minute walks was just me making small talk, but I was able to share nuggets of truth with her.

I might say, “You know, I came across something in my Bible this morning that just makes my day. It says that the God of hope will fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so you can overflow with hope. I like that! And I’m going to pray it for you too.”  (That’s in Romans 15:13.)

Over time, this became very effective. Slowly but surely, the onion layers were peeling away and she began to talk to me. She shared how frustrating elementary school had been for her and how dumb she always felt. She began cutting her arms because the physical pain made it easier to cope with emotional pain. Simply connecting with her in these five-minute walks gave her an outlet to share her feelings and it was a safe place. I watched her begin to reconnect with her peers and come to class ready to learn. She was a starfish the Lord allowed me to befriend and help back into the water.

Love like He does

As believers, we’ve experienced God’s agapé love. It’s the kind of love God will give us for others, not just a feeling but a deliberate decision on our part to put others ahead of ourselves.

Our Father has given us His Holy Spirit to help us. So whenever He gives us an opportunity to be used for His glory, we can humbly walk into it and love like He does.

After the pandemic, when students came back to class, it was a real challenge to help them regain their social skills. After so much screen time on the computer, tv, and phone, just walking through the hallways and switching to different classrooms was a real struggle. We actually had to incorporate classroom time into helping the kids make eye contact and engage with each other. Most kids adapt quickly but there’s always that remnant that takes a little more effort.

Now as a parent, no one wants their child to be an island of one. I have lunch duty a few days a week, and I noticed several kids sitting alone eating lunch by themselves. I would ask if their friends were coming to join them—if they said no, I would find a student and encourage them to introduce themselves to that one kid. This usually worked and they would end up being friends. All they needed was a nudge to notice and reach out to each other.

Middle school is a battleground for kids, in so many ways. The anxiety that comes from trying to fit in is real. The fear of failure is real. It’s my privilege to help and inspire them, but sometimes all I can do is silently pray over them. So be it. These starfish are image bearers of our living God, and this is the little stretch of beach He has called me to. Where is yours?

Let’s take the time to befriend and encourage those we cross paths with. With God’s help, we can scoop them up and help them find their way into the ocean of God’s agapé love.