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.
A few weeks earlier, the superintendent at church had approached me, his shoulders slumped, his face weary. "You did say you would like to teach, didn't you?" he asked.
"Yes," I said eagerly. "Have you found a place for me?"
He stared at his shoes. "I do have an opening in a second-session class," he said, hesitantly, "if you're interested. It would be working with our bus kids."
Ah, bus kids. Great, I thought. Just what I needed. A bunch of degenerate children to try and corral on weekends. As if my life wasn't stressed enough already.
But, in the end, I simply could not bring myself to refuse the superintendent's request and so, there I was, planting a smile on my face, hoping I fooled the lot of them.
Frankly, my heart broke a little each Sunday. Most of these children came from unstable homes, and it wasn’t unusual for the entire hour to be spent trying to break up fights. It was no fun. At every turn, I questioned my decision.
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 despised it when they interrupted me.
"Ain't it time to do our workbook?"
"You'll work in the workbook after I've finished the lesson," I said, not a little perturbed. With a strained voice, I attempted to regain my momentum.
"Stop kicking me!” Sharla again, glaring at Eric, who looked guilty as charged.
I tapped the table sharply. "OK, guys,” I said. “Could I please have your attention, and Eric, please leave Sharla alone. Let’s finish up our story." I picked up the lesson book and proceeded to share with them the love of God.
Suddenly, Ricardo blurted out, "My daddy says there ain't no God."
His words rattled me, but I quickly recovered and said, "There is a God, Ricardo, and He loves you very much. Now let’s continue with the story for today.” Inwardly, I wanted this day to be over. I checked my watch. Ten more excruciating minutes.
Michael raised his hand. At least one polite one among them. "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 lad’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. And what good was I doing if all I did was sit here listening to them talk and argue and fight? This seemed little more than babysitting, and I felt like a complete failure.
When the bell rang, the kids filed out to the buses at the curb. 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 had 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.
My heart smote me. Maybe these kids needed to talk to me as much as I needed to talk to them, and that should have sealed the deal. I should have known, just from Michael’s note, that I was in the right place. But I can be stubborn. Though I seldom seek a sign, this time I wanted one. Something that would scream out at me and say, “YES! TEACH THIS CLASS!” And 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, I returned from the mailbox one morning and stopped to admire the bed of impatiens surrounding one end of the house, and that’s when I saw something I had only heard about. A few feet away, growing between a brick wall and a concrete sidewalk, stood a single pink impatiens, blooming for all it was worth.
I ran inside and grabbed my camera. As I focused on the flower, I sensed it was God's sign. I sensed He was saying: Bloom wherever you are! Anyone can flourish in fertile soil, but can you bloom in the middle of hot cement?
Many years have passed since I fielded hard questions from seven-year-olds, but the lesson learned has never been forgotten. Now, whenever I find myself recoiling from difficult tasks, I remember the little pink flower and am reminded that true devotion to our calling prompts us to stay put, to bloom where we are, even when challenged by uncomfortable surroundings.
Adapted from the book, Silver Linings, by Dayle Allen Shockley.