Today's passage: I Corinthians 15:58
"Therefore, my BELOVED brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (Words in all caps mine, for emphasis).
I keep telling myself, "There are no words, there are no words, there are no words." But there are words, as feeble and incomplete and ineffective as they may be. I say all this because two dear ladies from our church and school will be moving on and away this week.. God is calling them to a new adventure, to return to families, after ministering in the inner city of Chicago for 30+ years. I have only known these fellow church members, former co-workers, faithful friends for 16 years. That may be a lot to some, but only a fraction compared to others. But in that time, I've learned a lifetime of knowledge from them.
When I first moved to Chicago, college graduate, newbie teacher, embarking on my own for the very first time (even in college I lived at home) I might have been intimidated by the wealth of knowledge Miss Huddleston and Miss Traxler possessed. As I observed them in their classrooms with completely different teaching styles, I realized that my four years of college classes was nothing compared to the practical application I saw before me. In my time teaching at the school, especially as a rookie third grade teacher, I never can remember a criticism or a judgement on my lack of experience. They were always there for advice, and if I asked, they gave it. But I learned the most from watching them. As time passed, I grew more confident in my own teaching abilities. I didn't try to be Miss Traxler or Miss Huddleston in the classroom, rather, I modeled after them. I took cues from them on everything from parent-teacher conferences and how to handle disciplinary situations to how to make an effective seating arrangement. Sure, I learned some of that in college, but learning and doing are two different things. Following Miss Shipley (Wandell), Miss Huddleston, and Miss Traxler for seven years was not easy for sure. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they also instilled confidence in parents about me. Yes, I was new. Yes, I didn't know what I was doing for the better part of seven years, but I was willing to keep learning. I was willing to keep taking their advice. I knew I had to find my own way, and they knew that too. I love them especially for that.
Since leaving teaching nearly nine years ago (yes, Carol, it has been that long) Miss Traxler moved up to third grade. She started asking me for advice. That was the highest compliment I could have been paid. And I knew she didn't need any of it, but it was flattering just the same. They both still view me as a fellow teacher even though I only substitute on occasion, and that's like the minor leaguer being high fived by the major leaguers, a suitable analogy for our shared love of the Cubs.
It is pure selfishness that makes me wish they could stay so that all my boys could have them as teachers. My oldest had Miss Hudd in first grade but will miss the opportunity by one year to have Miss Traxler. And the younger two will not be able to have them as teachers either, but they have still felt their influence through our church. The school will not be the only place that their absence will be noticed. Our church is losing two dedicated and faithful ladies. They have ministered in more areas in our church than I can even name. If there is any person in our congregation who does not know them, I would daresay that it would be their own fault, because I have seen how earnestly they try to befriend every person who enters our doors. They have never been just teachers. They have always been women who love God and demonstrated that in their daily walk. They have always loved our church and our school. They have stayed when times have been tough, through pastor changes, staff changes, student changes. And I assure you it is not because they have had it so good working here. But this is where God called them. This became their home. How easy it would have been to leave a place behind when enrollment was low, when pay was lean, when church membership and offerings were flagging. How easy it would have been to go back to loved ones who were ailing and might not have much longer here on earth, to spend time with nieces and nephews they had snatches of summers with who were now growing up and finishing high school and college, to find employment where bigger Christian schools seemed to be thriving and growing. Any Christian school in the country would have benefited from ladies who had handled children who came into their classrooms not knowing a word in English, who didn't even always come from a Christian home or background, who had continued without paychecks time and time again. I know that both of them will probably read this (as they have read many of my posts and been a great encouragement in this arena as well) and shake their heads that they don't deserve such praise. They will say they only did what God called them to do. But not everybody does. It is a rare thing to see anyone stay in one place for even ten years let alone triple that number. Staying where God calls is not an easy thing to do and when others are called to other places, it becomes even harder. Why is it appropriate to honor these two ladies as we will do this Sunday which is to be their last in our membership? I think the verse above explains it. They have been steadfast, they have been unmovable, they have abounded in God's Work, and they will see how their labor has never been in vain.
There are some teachers who are loved, but there are some teachers who are beloved, dear to the heart. Beth and Carol, you are beloved. We will miss you in our church and in our school and though the words have been completely inadequate, you have been my mentors and my friends these 16 years. "Thank you, for giving to the Lord, I am a life that was changed...."