We moved here two years ago; it was not long after the move that she approached me. I was at the piano getting ready to play for church - I would assume then it was a Wednesday night. "I hear Zak can't read; I can teach him to read. I want to work with him."
That was my first interaction with her. She was elderly and I wondered if she would be able to handle Zak and all his issues. I wondered if it was just a friendly gesture on her part - and was not sure if I should take her up on the offer.
Zak could read - a little. It was not that I had not tried. I had. A lot. More times than I had ever gone over the alphabet with the other children combined - I had gone over and over with him. It had brought me to a point of tears. Trying to teach Zak reading was the catalyst behind me knowing with all of my heart that I cold not teach Zak. I had tried (harder than I ever thought possible) and I had failed.
It was because of the failed reading lessons that in desperation I called the local school system and Zak was enrolled in the special education program. Something happened there. Perhaps they had the keys to open the doors to his learning capabilities - or perhaps he finally was ready to learn. Either way one year in the special education and he learned all of his letters, all of his numbers, he learned to tie his shoes... The list was long. He was learning.
Then we moved.
The special education system here was not a good fit for Zak. Labels seemed to limit possibility and I was deeply concerned that Zak could be going further in school; but no one was taking him there.
I would go over the options in my mind as I lay in bed a night. We could put him in another school; but there were no other schools available. I could homeschool; but I already did that and it failed miserably.
It was busy each night mulling over those thoughts when she approached me that Wednesday evening.
I decided to take her up on the offer. Perhaps, even if he did not learn to read (an accomplishment I was still pretty sure would never really happen) it would be good for her to have someone to work with - and it would be good for Zak to be with someone older. I still worried that she would not be able to handle Zak. I know Zak!
I did not know Virginia! I did not know that for over 50 years she had given her life to teaching children. Perhaps there are children too hard for Virginia to handle; but I have not met them. She has a love for teaching, and a love for children that can not be measured.
I approached her and asked her what she was thinking. She had a plan. She would pick Zak up from school on Tuesday and Thursday, drive him home, and then tutor him in reading.
I was sure that once she started working with him she would be in over her head. Zak would drive her crazy. Would he listen to her? Would he learn?
In the months that followed the tutoring became a part of our life. He would bound into the kitchen, get his snack and they would go in to work. Flashcard after flashcard they worked. I would get onto Zak when he got too wild and hope that Miss Virginia did not get frustrated with him. It was a little stressful at first. Me making sure that he listened and was respectful.
One afternoon she pulled me aside, "I can handle Zak. Just let us be. He does fine listening to me. I know he has issues; but I can handle them. Just let me work with him."
A desk was moved into our bedroom and the lessons were moved into a quiet room. I would walk past the door and listen to them as they read. Over and over they read together. Book after book.
She would eat dinner with us sometimes and tell us stories from her days teaching in Florida; and on those Tuesdays and Thursdays I fell in love with this teaching friend of mine.
She was not just teaching Zak to read; she was teaching me too. So many things I learned from her. She was teaching me that Zak could learn to read. She was teaching me to see past the disability and see the possibilities.
One day I stood out at the car with her and told her that I thought we were going to have to Zak out of school and teach him at home. There were increasing concerns about his learning at school. Virginia looked me square in the eyes and said, "Martie, you can do it! You can teach Zak . I know you can. Zak is a smart boy - you are his best teacher." And at that moment I looked her in the eyes and I believed what she was saying. I was learning and she was teaching.
Then she got sick. Very sick and there was nothing that could be done to cure her of her illness. She continued to teach despite her declining health. When it became too much for her to drive to us; she invited Zak to her house. They played games together, read together and laughed together. I was learning that even when your sick you can still minister. She was teaching by her life and I was learning.
Sunday after Sunday she attended church. Week after week her health declined; but she was always in her pew. As I observed her I realized that she always had a smile, a favorite hymn she would request; and on the really hard weeks (the ones where she had been in and out of the hospital) she was always one of the first ones to raise her hand and give a testimony of God's goodness to her. She was teaching and I was learning. Learning that even when my health may be failing God is still good. All the time.
When she heard about my counseling classes I wanted to take in Wisconsin, she offered me her airline reward miles. She said she was too sick to fly and wanted me to have them. I flew to my classes for free because she gave of what she had and blessed me. As I sat in the class learning about Biblical counseling I thought of Virginia an how she made that all possible. In the future, every person God allows me to minster to through counseling will have Miss Virginia to thank for making it possible.
I wish I had time to tell of all the things she has done for me and my family. I cannot. I can say that she is a teacher. She has taught me so much about life, about God and about children. She has taught the lessons while she lived her life for others - and I have learned.
Right now, the illness is claiming her body. Her time on earth is almost done. She is teaching me one final lesson. She has taught me how to live as a Christian - now she is teaching me to die as a Christian. She is showing me how it is done. She is smiling and praying and laughing - all while she is dying. She is teaching me that no matter what, I can still be grateful for all the goodness of the Lord to me. She is teaching me that Heaven is one breath away and even on death's doorstep, as a Christian, I will have nothing to fear.
Virginia - you have been my teacher these past two years. You have taught life lessons to me that I needed. Thank you. I am listening as you are teaching your last lessons. Your time here is short. I will miss you! Heaven will be wonderful for you. I am confident that when you take your last breath here you will see the eyes of your Savior and will hear the words, "Well done!"
Thanks Miss Virginia for being my teacher. I love you!