The Teacher

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!


Ministry Trip Wisconsin and Michigan

We just returned from being on the road for almost three weeks.  We had a wonderful time.  We were in 5 different churches in two states.  It was the first real time we had been out for any extended period of time.  We had a few bumps along the way; but God was good to us throughout the whole trip and we saw Him working in our lives as a family and also in the meetings we had while we were out.

We started out our trip with the intention of driving half way through to our first destination.  Our plan was to get in 7-8 hours of driving time the first day.  Plans changed when we were 4 hours into our trip.  Despite the fact that we had taken the van in to be checked and serviced to insure that NOTHING went wrong, we found ourselves on top of a mountain stranded on the side of the highway.  While technology still gets mixed reviews in our house - everyone (including Dad) was very thankful for smart phones and Internet connection at that moment!

A man drove passed our van as it was stalled and pulled over to see if he could help.  (He just happened to have a towing service.)  HE called for his flat bed truck ( our van was too heavy to use a normal tow truck) and we waited for the truck to get to us for about 30 min.  Seems he also had a connection to a nearby hotel and booked us a spot for the night.  (Yes, we still are wondering about that; but when you are stranded you are somewhat at the mercy of the locals...)

We were in for a ride of a life time when the flat bed arrived!  Seems there was not enough room for the entire family of 7 to ride in the cab of the truck.  The driver said he did not see any reason why we could not ride in the van itself.  So, he told us to stay put in the van and proceeded to have the van lifted onto the bed of the truck.  I did mention that we were on TOP of a mountain.  The nearby town was at the bottom of the mountain (and in a different state - which helped towing costs for the owner of the company).  We have never experienced a ride like that in our lifetime - and I am hoping we never will again.  It was scary to feel the wind moving the van as we drove down the mountain.  I kept telling the kids to stay in their seat belts.

As we drove down the highway, naturally people were inclined to look up at the van on top of the truck.  It is not a normal sight to see a family sitting in a van on top of a truck.  As we were driving, we were seeing people taking pictures of us in the van.  It was odd being on display like that!  I have never been so thankful to see the hotel as I was when we pulled in.  It was by far, the worst motel we have stayed in years; and we kept trying to keep our spirit's positive by reminding ourselves it was better than sleeping in the van on the side of the highway.

The van was scheduled to be fixed by mid morning the next day; and we were thankful there was a park right by the motel.  It required a short hike down a mountain side; but the little kids loved the hike and the jungle gym at the bottom!  Rob got a call while we were walking in the park that the van was ready to be picked up.  Rob made the hike back up the mountain to go get the van only to have an altercation with a tree branch that left his face looking like he had met Captain Hook and it had not been a pleasant meeting.

We loaded up the van in record time and were happily on our way down the highway.  About a half a mile into the journey the van stopped the same way it had the night before.  We again were thankful for our phones and called the mechanic we had just left (and paid).  He told us it must have been something else wrong with the van other than what he had fixed.  Rob agreed with him and asked if he could send help out way.  After about 45 minutes help arrived, fixed and charged us for another repair.  We were thankful to get out of town just a little after noon that day!

We prayed about what the Lord would have us to do; and felt peace that He wanted us to make it to the church we were scheduled to be in on Sunday morning.  We drove fifteen hours to upper MI and got in around 2 in the morning.  We were so happy to be at the motel and practically collapsed into our beds within minutes of our arrival.    Sleep was sweet and deep - albeit not quite long enough.

We had a wonderful morning at Central Baptist Church in Stephenson, MI.  It was wonderful to see people we had known years ago when we attended the church as college students.  Rob preached in Sunday School and for the morning service; and we were able to sing together as a family and do special music together.    We left there blessed with wonderful fellowship.

We headed on to upper Wisconsin from there and stayed in Eagle River.  Rob's parents live near by and we were able to spend time with them and enjoy time together as a family.  Eagle River has a Children's Museum and the little kids enjoyed exploring there for several hours while the snow fell outside.   Rob preached at Eagle River Baptist Church on Wednesday and we enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship with Pastor Robotti and his family there.

Our next stop was in Appleton, Wisconsin.  We were there for a four day set of meetings.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship with friends there and being fed and cared for by the people there at Victory Baptist Church. So many of the members are dear friends of ours from our time in Wisconsin when Rob was pastoring.  It was wonderful to catch up with so many while we were there.  We enjoyed getting to know Pastor Griesbach and his family more while we were there fr the services and during our meal on Wednesday night.    It was a wonderful set of meetings and there were tears in our eyes when we pulled out Wednesday night after the last service.

Before we headed out of Appleton we were able to stop in and visit visit with Anna's foster parents.  It was wonderful to see them again and thank them for taking care of our little girl till God could bring her to us.  Anna was so excited to see them again!

We headed out on Thursday to go to Mayville, Wisconsin the town where we had lived before moving south.  We were able to see old familiar sights and friends we have missed seeing for the past two years we have been gone.  Zak was able to go and visit his old school and see his teacher.  He loved telling her about how we have a dog now.  We stayed with some dear friends of ours, Russ and Kris Shroeder, who have been an encouragement to us and help to us and our family. We enjoyed visiting together and getting caught up on our lives (and laundry while we chatted).  It was a wonderful relaxing time.  Before we left Mayville, Rob's folks came and picked up James.  He will be staying up in Wisconsin for a while this summer helping with projects that Papa needs help with and enjoying the north woods a while longer.  I already miss him!

Our next stop was Eastside Baptist Church in Milwaukee, WI.  We stayed with the Deckers - our dear friends and members of the church there.  The kids enjoyed playing together, riding motorcycles and playing games.  It was a wonderful time of fellowship with them and we regret there are so many miles between us that we can no enjoy it more often.  On Sunday Rob preached the two services there at Eastside and we were able to do special music together as a family  It was wonderful Sunday and we met new friends are were so encouraged by the sweet spirit of the church family there.  It was hard to leave on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday night we were at Waupun Baptist Church.  So many friends were there and we enjoyed seeing each one of them and talking with them.  We had a good service there on Sunday night and enjoyed spending time with Bob and Corrine Love after the service and overnight at their house.  I am thankful for people who will open up their home to a family of seven.  I know it is not easy!!

We stayed another day at the Deckers and caught up on laundry before we headed out on the road.  We left on Tuesday morning for home and arrived Wednesday morning at our house.  The plan had been to stop half way; but Rob asked me if I minded driving straight through.  I wanted to get home; and he did to. It felt wonderful to step into our house and feel like we were home.  We were greeted by a very excited dog who showed us just how much he had missed us with a fancy dance routine he did while jumping up on down on four feet!  It was wonderful to see him.

Julie a dear friend of mine had stayed here at the house to care for the dog and hold the fort down.  I was greeted when I came home to a house that was cleaner than when I had left and everything in it's proper place.   When I laid my head on the pillow in the early hours of the morning I could not help but feel how loved and how blessed I am to have so many wonderful friends.  It *was* good to be home; but it had been *so* good to be out as a family; ministering together.  As I closed my eyes I thanked God for the wonderful time He had given us as a family.  There is something that happens when a family is united to a common goal and focus.  While not everything about the three weeks was pleasant, we *did* break down, kids *did* argue over things while in the close quarters of a vehicle, Zak's limitations with autism were still present,but we*were* together.  We were doing something of value together as a family and it was wonderful!