Saturday, June 29, 2013


Ryheim (third grade) and my oldest son (4 at the time)
 When my husband and I were first married and moved to the area where we now live, I worked as a substitute teacher.  Certified teaching positions were hard to come by at the time, and I had been humbled by rejection letter after rejection letter, polite "no thank yous," and a few devastating "sorry, we have filled the position" you can only dream of having right now responses.  It turns out, willing certified substitutes are a hot commodity, then and now.  Substituting helped me make some money and get to know the local schools and their faculties.  I desperately needed a job, even if I had to go about it the hard way. 

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
My first day on the job, I got a call to substitute in my dream school for a special needs teacher working within a larger, mainstream classroom.  Really, I was a shadow of sorts for a kindergartner (let's just call him Ben) who had special needs.  My job was to help Ben acclimate himself in his new classroom and participate both socially and academically with his peers.  I am not going to lie.  I was scared that first day.  I felt totally unprepared for the job, but how could I say no?  This was a school that had turned me down, and I was determined to show them that not hiring me was a mistake!

God doesn't make mistakes, though.  He makes opportunity, divine appointments for His will to be done.  I was the one who was mistaken.  That first day of substitute teaching turned into weeks.  Ben was amazing.  He was so friendly and outgoing.  He was eager to get where he was going and connect with the people around him.  Kids and grown-ups loved him and quickly came to admire his spirit.  I am a better teacher today because of all the lessons Ben ended up teaching me about being a good teacher.  And Ben's purpose in my life doesn't stop there.  Ben is the reason I met Ryheim.  Ryheim was an extremely shy and uncertain five year old student in Ben's kindergarten class  Ryheim was dark and skinny, with this smile that got me from the beginning.  Ryheim didn't smile often when I first met 
him, but when he did, it was so big and white it could light up the whole room.  I found 
myself working with Ryheim as much as I worked with Ben.  You see, Ryheim was special too, but it would take years before I realized just how special.

Fast forward a year.  As it turned out, I ended up getting hired as a first grade teacher in the school where I took my first substitute teaching position.  Remember that dream teaching job?  I finally got it!  And guess who ended up in my class the following year?  Ryheim.  You know, the dark, skinny, extremely shy boy with the huge, contagious smile.  It just so happened that he had to repeat first grade, another divine appointment.  I didn't know why, but I knew there was a purpose for our paths to cross again.  I could just feel it.  There was just something about that smile of his.

It didn't take me long to figure out that Ryheim's beautiful smile was a window to his heart and a magnet to mine.  God connected us that way.  I knew that but getting this boy to talk was like peeling back layers of an onion.  The more I discovered about Ryheim, the more I loved him, the more my soul ached for him, and I was inspired to help this boy, even beyond his first grade year in my class.  It's hard to put into words the feeling I got from knowing that God was the one doing the connecting, but please trust me, it was there.  It's still there.  It is strong, and God makes his presence known in real ways.

Ryheim was very special, and he stood out in a class of 17 first graders from day one, but not for reasons you might guess.  In a very affluent, suburban school where parents are able to provide abundantly for their children's needs, Ryheim was the child with the least.  He didn't have a bed or working heat every night.  He often came to school wearing the same clothes each day.  When it rained, Ryheim's roof leaked terribly from years of weather damage.  Ryheim lived without the things the other kids in my class, and even I, took for granted.  Ryheim's home was overflowing with family and love but lacking in necessary 
resources and space. Yet, what Ryheim so obviously didn't have compared to his peers, he 
made up for with his pure heart and soul.  Like I said, I couldn't help but love that boy.

You might be wondering how I knew God was at work when it came to Ryheim.  For starters, I just knew that boy needed my prayers.  What are the odds in a school with 17 first grade classes that he would end up in my class?  When I found out Ryheim's heat source was broken, my husband just happened to be working with a commercial electrician.  It was around Christmas time.  You should know, Ryheim's mobile home was very obviously falling apart from the outside.  Every time I drove by it, I prayed God would help me get that child a new one.  We knew it was a shot in the dark to ask a very busy electrician to go and check things out at Ryheim's house, but we asked anyway, and he said yes without hesitation.  Not only did he fix the heat, he ended up fixing an electrical problem that was a time bomb for sending the mobile home up in flames.  And guess what?  That sweet electrician also saw the leaky roof and sent some roofing guys out to help fix that too, all free of charge.

Ryheim wanted to succeed, to be kind to others, to have friends, to make good choices, and to make those who love him proud.  School was really hard for him, though, and learning was even harder.  Both of those things, so necessary for success, are still a challenge, but that has never stopped him from trying.  Ryheim worked hard in my class.  He did well, despite some sweat and tears from both of us, and he went on to second grade.  

Wait, though, before you go anywhere, I have to tell you more about God's hand in this.  Ryheim and I have stayed connected through the years.  Since I first met him, I have taken a break from teaching to be a stay-at-home mom to my three boys.  But every year, God keeps our paths intertwined.  Ryheim's third grade teacher was my minister's wife.  Coincidence?  I know not.  And when the school district changed the rules and banned on-sight tutoring for students, I had no idea what to do because that was such an easy way for me to help Ryheim.  Guess what?  At the same time that rule came about, the district also changed the bus routes.  You can believe me when I tell you that Ryheim's bus was the 
same bus that came through my neighborhood.  Instead of tutoring Ryheim at school, he got dropped off at my front door.  Another divine intervention, I am sure.  By the time the bus routes changed again, my kids were in school too, so picking him up is no problem.  We try to do that once a week.  Somehow it just works.

Ryheim is 15 now.  I am still Ryheim's teacher today, and he is still mine, and so much more.  We have become family.  It took 10 years of praying and lots of failed attempts on my part, but just this year, a local church delivered a beautiful mobile home to Ryheim's old front door.  It is a lesson to me that sometimes we have to let go in prayer and get out of the way so others can do for God what we can't accomplish on our own.  There have been times over the years when I have shed many tears and prayed lots of prayers wondering if Ryheim was going to make it through school, but he always does. 

That brings me to the reason for this blog post.  Just a few weeks ago, I had the absolute honor of attending Ryheim's eighth grade graduation.  It was another moment in my journey with Ryheim that I could just feel God at work.  His sister invited me and told me Ryheim was receiving an award.  I would not have missed that event for the world!  There was only one problem.  With 450 kids graduating, each family was only allotted 2 tickets.  It was held in the main sanctuary (another purposeful happening) of a large local church.  Those without a ticket had to sit in an overflow room and watch graduation unfold on a big screen TV.  I really did not want to be in that overflow room, but I knew tickets were few and far between, as you might imagine.  I was so thankful when a wonderful friend of mine graciously offered me her two extra tickets.  She had won two front row seats at an auction.  My problem was solved, and I even had an extra ticket to pass on to Ryheim's family. 

When I got into the sanctuary graduation night, seats were going fast.  Apparently there were too many tickets and not enough seats.  I found one particular seat that stood out to me, and I took it.  I was sitting on a one-seat row all by myself at the very back of the room near the exit.  As I sat down, it occurred to me that not only was I getting to see Ryheim graduate, but I was also going to get to watch most of my former first graders graduate from his class.  That is a gift for any teacher!  My story gets even better.  Where I chose to sit, that was another divine appointment.  All 450 graduates walked right by me as they marched in to the sounds of "Pomp and Circumstance."  Ryheim didn't know I was coming.  As he passed me, so handsome in a suit and tie, I got to grab his hand and catch his eyes.  It was an amazing moment.  But that's not all.  Out of 450 students, Ryheim received the "Most Improved Student" award that night.  I could not have been prouder or happier.  And you know what, that is how God works, friends, when we invite Him along on our journey.

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
From our dinner celebrating Ryheim's graduation last week
Ryheim is a blessing in my life for so many reasons.  He is what faith in our saving God is all about.  I admire Ryheim's raw determination.  He doesn't succeed at everything he does, and he struggles much of the time, but he keeps going because he knows God is calling him for more in his life.  Ryheim taught me that as human beings and adults, we can't give up on kids who want to succeed but don't know how.  We just have to push ourselves to be patient and get more creative in our efforts.  And above all, we have to pray through the work we are called to do.

A prayer for today-
Dear Almighty Lord and Savior,
Thank You for Your amazing and awesome divine appointments.  Thank You for filling me with Your love.  Thank You for the blessings only You can bring to my life.  Forgive me for the times I have not used Your blessings as gifts for blessing others.  Help me, God, to be more aware of Your day to day presence.  I pray You will give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear Your calls to love others for Your glory.
In the name of Jesus I pray,
Thankful for God's powerful love,

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