Like a herd of cattle, they came. Children of all sizes, shapes and colors plunged out of yellow buses and charged through the doors of the classroom. Six boys and one girl huddled around my table and stared at me expectantly.
To be honest, I didn't want to be here. Though I wanted to teach Sunday school, teaching bus kids wasn't my idea of doing much good. Most came from unstable homes, and it wasn't unusual for the entire hour to be spent trying to break up fights. Frankly, my heart broke a little each Sunday. It was no fun. I questioned at every turn my decision to teach in this capacity.
As I began the lesson this particular morning, the children fidgeted with great fervor. Before long, Sharla interrupted.
"I'm ready to work the workbook," she announced.
"Pardon me?" I hated it when they interrupted me.
"Ain't it time to do our workbook?"
"After the lesson," I said. With a strained voice, I attempted to regain my momentum.
"Stop kicking me!" Sharla again, glaring at Eric, who looked guilty.
I tapped the table. "Okay, guys," I said, rather loudly. "Let's finish up our story."
Suddenly, Ricardo blurted, "My daddy says there ain't no God."
"There is a God, Ricardo," I said. "And he loves you very much."
Michael raised his hand. At least there's one polite child among them, I thought, exasperated. "Yes, Michael?"
"My mama say she gonna give her kids away if we don't stop fussin' so much."
My pulse quickened. Nobody told me you needed a degree in psychology to teach second-graders. Not knowing anything else to do, I patted the boy's sagging shoulders, a terrible ache lodging in my throat. "I'm so sorry, Michael," I said, meaning it.
I wondered if these children were gaining anything by being here. What good was I accomplishing if all I did was sit here listening to them talk? This seemed little more than babysitting.
When the bell rang, the kids filed out to the buses. On his way out the door, Michael handed me a crumpled piece of paper, awkwardly embracing me around the waist. He glanced up, his dark face breaking into a smile. "Bye," he said shyly, dashing for the door.
As my husband drove us home, I sorted through the things I'd gathered up at the end of the session and found Michael's paper. Inside, scribbled in childish scrawl, were these words: Teecher I like talking to you I love you.
That should have sealed it. I should have known, just from Michael's note, that I was in the right place. But I can be stubborn. Though I seldome seek a sign, this time I wanted one. Something that would pop out and scream, "Yes, teach this class!" So I said a little prayer that went something like this: "Dear Lord, what would you have me do about Michael and his friends?"
The next week, as I returned from the mailbox one morning and stopped to admire the bed of impatiens surrounding one end of the house, I saw something I'd previously only heard about. A few feet away, sprouting between a brick wall and a concrete sidewalk, was a single pink impatiens.
I ran inside and grabbed my camera. As I focused on the flower, I sensed God saying: Bloom wherever you are! Anyone can flourish in fertile soil, but can you bloom in the middle of hot cement?
Now whenever I find myself recoiling from difficult tasks, I remember that pink impatiens and I'm reminded that true devotion to our calling prompts us not only to stay where we are, but to blossom there.
Dayle Shockley is a freelance writer and author of three books, including Home Improvement: Nine Steps to Living a Joyful Life (Word Aflame Press). www.DayleShockley.com
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