Saturday, July 10, 2010

VBS homework: Gratitude

This year for Church of the Apostles VBS, our children's director is asking the volunteers to do weekly homework relating to the various lessons. Our youth run our VBS, so this is an exercise for them to get familiar with individual themes. My niece, Joyce, is coming to stay with us and volunteer, and I have decided to also do the homework for fun. It is fun stuff, as you'll see.

Read Luke 17:11-19
Think of a favorite gift. Why was it so special, and how did you show gratitude?

This is a hard question. I've gotten lots of favorite gifts over the years, and as I think of the ones that stand out, I realize I suck at thank you notes. Shameful, though in my defense, I will say I received each gift face to face and thanked the giver personally.

There is one gift I want to share with you.

I taught at Rosewood Elementary School for three years, from 1998-2001. The kids in every third grade class rocked, though I did have those difficult days, and I was a newbie. Let me also explain that I was twenty-two when I started teaching, and quite naive about the world, especially the world right here in Columbia. When I interviewed for my first job, Ted Wachter asked me why I was interested, and I was honest. He must have hired me for entertainment because of my sheer stupidity for interviewing skills, and because, as he told the other teachers, I was perky. He asked me why I wanted to work in Columbia. I told him I really had wanted to move up north, but I had fallen in love with this guy in law school in Columbia and figured I could find some inner city elements here as well. For those that don't know, I graduated from a school nicknamed the country club of the south, and I grew up in small town Tennessee. Needless to say, he smirked, told me I had the job, and that Rosewood would be good practice before I moved on to more inner city environments. See? Naive or stupid? It's a toss up.

But I digress. One year I got this kid, Kerry Dunlap, in my homeroom class. His grandmother lived in an apartment across the street from the playground, and oftentimes we'd see her sitting at the fence watching her grandchildren play. She breathed with an oxygen pump, and was physically frail. And yet she cared for her many grandchildren. I knew of four and a mother that stayed with her. The mother had drug addictions, and so there was also an aunt, and between the family they survived somehow. As Kerry's teacher, when I needed to talk with Miss Winola, I walked across the street and visited in person. And so that is how I know how they lived - Her on oxygen, one bedroom for six? people, cardboard covering rotten holes in the floor. The place was always clean, and I never felt unwelcome or awkward, but the conditions tugged at me. One Christmas, all the kids in my class brought me Christmas presents, and Kerry did as well. Wrapped in newspaper in a recycled box were two ceramic angels. I knew those angels. They had previously sat on a shelf in the apartment where Kerry spent his evenings. They had been his grandmother's. And so, from a student and his grandmother, I received one of my most memorable blessings to date. They obviously gave from their heart when they had so little, and it is the one gift from all my years of teaching that stands out above them all.

One month after Michael and I got married and moved to Aiken, a fellow teacher called. Miss Winola had passed away. The kids went on to live with family. However, this family had such an impact on our lives that when I told Michael Miss Winola was gone, he asked me if we needed to adopt Kerry and his siblings. We were newlyweds, living in another town, and yet she had been such an example of the Holy Spirit that Michael was willing to take her four grandchildren without having ever met any of them and without hesitancy. I have kept those angels close all these years. So, to Kerry and Miss Winola, thank you. For more than words express.

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