I was reading Angie’s post last week on Laced with Grace called "Obedience." It's a beautiful story about second chances, and it brought to mind a gracious second chance the Lord gave to me a number of years ago. Before I continue, we need to take a trip back to 1975 (yes, I realize some of you weren’t even born yet, but try and imagine with me...).
It was late August as I arrived at school for my first day of 5th grade. I walked down the hall until I reached the two classrooms, one of which would be mine. As I scanned the student list posted outside the first classroom, I didn’t see my name. I walked across the hall to the other student list. I immediately realized the teacher’s name was not who I expected. There had obviously been a staffing change over the summer, and I had a brand new teacher. I walked in the classroom and was warmly greeted by a tall, slender, attractive woman. I remember immediately noticing her sparkly eyes and beautiful smile. Her name was Miss Bailey.
Like most kids, I was extremely impressionable at the age of 10 and from that first day, I wanted to emulate her. She was young and full of joy and creativity. Her patience seemed endless and I soon discovered she was an incredible teacher. Even the kids who had previously been more challenging were different under her teaching. (It's possible the years have diminished my memory, but I have little or no recollection of anyone getting into trouble.) We all loved her and we knew she loved us, and we wanted to do our very best to please her. I don’t ever remember enjoying school more.
Things continued to progress well as we made our way through the school year. One winter morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance, she shared that she prayed for us every morning. She then said "I thought maybe today we could all pray together." She asked us to bow our heads and then she prayed that God would be with each of us, that He would help us to pay attention, to treat each other kindly and to do our very best for Him. I remember how much I loved that. My family at that time (though moral and loving), was not walking with the Lord. This continued on for a couple of weeks. Before too long, other kids were even volunteering to pray. There was only one problem…I attended a public school.
At the time, I had no concept that praying there was considered "wrong," until one day, with much grace and respect, she explained that we weren’t allowed to do that in class anymore. I remember being a bit disappointed and confused, because it didn’t seem at all like a bad thing to me. A few weeks later, in early spring, she came in our classroom one day and said, I’m very sorry to tell you I’ll be leaving and won’t be here to finish out the school year. After reminding us the importance of being kind, doing our best and behaving well for our new teacher, she was gone...and we were heartbroken. (It was a number of years later before I made the connection between the prayer issue and her departure.) We finished out the year with a substitute teacher who was young and very sweet, but it was never quite the same.
As years continued on, I began to realize the profound impact she had on my life. I thought of her often and longed to talk to her, to know how she was doing, and to thank her for being such a strong and Godly influence.
Then, one day in 1995, because of a scheduling error with my son’s pediatrician, I found myself at their Cincinnati office, rather than the northern Kentucky office less than a mile from our home. Brennan must have only been there for an immunization or check-up, because afterwards, we stopped for lunch at a nearby McDonalds. As we were eating, a woman walked in who looked somewhat familiar. Along with her, were two beautiful little girls of a different nationality, both of whom looked to be under the age of 5. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why she looked familiar and then it hit me…she looked like Miss Bailey! I was trying to look at her without staring, reasoning back and forth in my mind…"Could that be her?" to "It can’t be her!" The little girls with her were younger than my son (who was 6 at the time). The math just didn’t add up. If Miss Bailey had kids, they would undoubtedly be older than that. I was still debating with myself when I saw her smile…that same sparkly eyed smile from 20 years before. That’s when I knew it was her. I tried to make eye contact, in the hopes that she might recognize me. What was I saying!? Last time she had seen me, I was only 10, and now, I was 30! A few more moments went by, and although I so badly wanted to talk with her, I just couldn’t gather the courage to do it. (How silly is that!?)
Brennan and I got into our car and headed for home. Within moments, the regret settled in. It made me heartsick that God had provided an opportunity I had long hoped for…and I completely blew it. I thought about looking her up in the phone book, but realized I hadn’t the faintest clue of her married name. It remained on my mind for several days and I expressed my remorse to the Lord over and over. I told Him if ever I saw Miss Bailey again, I’d never let an opportunity like that pass me by.
Later that same week, our church was hosting a concert by Dallas Holm. (For those who aren’t familiar, he was a popular contemporary Christian singer of the 80’s and 90’s.) The concert had been promoted on local Christian radio, so we were expecting a large turnout. We arrived quite early in order to get good seats. Once settled, I turned around to watch for any of our friends who might need a place to sit. Would you believe directly behind me, was none other than Miss Bailey!? I quickly turned back around, wide-eyed. I had told my hubby about what happened at McDonalds and he must have seen my wide eyes because he mouthed to me "What’s wrong?" I mouthed back (pointing through the back of the pew) "That’s her! That’s Miss Bailey!" (then, his eyes grew wide!) There was still quite some time before the concert, so I knew what I needed to do. I took a deep breath and turned around…
We spent the next 15-20 minutes catching up. I was able to tell her how much I appreciated her powerful influence in my life, how much I learned from her. I told her my memories from her class were so precious and that I knew the Lord had drawn me through her example. She said our class was her very first, right out of college. She made reference to the fact that the school wasn’t too happy with her about those morning prayers. A few months after her departure, she had married and begun teaching at a Christian school, where she remained until she and her husband began having children of their own, four boys to be exact. Her youngest was a high school senior. The previous year, they had adopted the two beautiful little girls from Guatemala. Her life, she said, was so very blessed. They were actually a month away from a move to Alaska, where her husband had received a job transfer. She was anxious to see what adventures awaited them. I asked if she ever planned to return to teaching, she said she might when her daughters were old enough to attend school. As she spoke, it struck me that though a little older, her face was just as radiant as it was in 1975.
It’s been 13 years since God graciously orchestrated that meeting. Her daughters are nearly grown now. I’m not sure if her family is still in Alaska, or if she ever did return to teaching, but I have peace. It thrills my heart to think there are other students, possibly as far as Alaska, who have been impacted (perhaps for eternity) by the example of one extraordinary teacher.