Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. ~Mother Teresa
I got up early this Monday morning to walk to school so I was sure to have breakfast. The bed is soaked with urine, as I’ve once again wet the bed in the night. I lay the Bible aside that I’ve slept with and quietly get dressed….my underwear still wet. I haven’t eaten much in two days, so getting to school early enough to have breakfast is my focus. I get started and talk to God on the way. There were times when I begged His forgiveness for my sinful behavior in not obeying my mother and there were others that I asked him for a mommy and daddy to care for me. My oldest sister Lilly (12 years old) walks beside me and asked what I was thinking about…I don’t say. She loves me and I love her. She’s more like a mama to me, though I don’t realize it at the time. She works so hard to feed us on weekends when the cupboards are bare. She borrows bread from a neighbor and we eat mustard sandwiches. There’s always milk thanks to Betty the milk lady. She delivers it each week in glass gallon jugs I can hardly lift. Lilly always gives me the first glass, which is mostly sweet cream….she giggles when I drink it and squishes up her nose and pretends she doesn’t much like it.
I get to school and hurry to the cafeteria and try to fill an empty stomach on all they offer…I sit and eat so fast and still feel hungry…then my tummy hurts, it goes through me almost as soon as I swallow the last bite. I head down the first grade hall, eager to see my teacher. I’m not a good student, a terrible reader…but I love school. Mrs. Sherrill greets me at the door of her classroom with a hug that makes me feel as if I am her child. She turns my face up to hers and asked if I had a good weekend and if I’m ready to learn….I say the word “yes”, but my wounded heart and unseen bruises cry silently behind smiles. We walk over to the sink and brush my teeth, wash my face and hands and put on her good smelling lotion…which has become routine. She begins to brush the tangles out of my hair with the gentleness of a loving mother, and then pulls my long thick hair back with a ribbon. She hugs me again…I don’t want to let go….with gentleness that can’t be describe, she takes my face in her hands and says she loves me…but her tender eyes say more than her words and I walk to my desk with confidence that I am loved, as the children begin to file in.
Mrs. Sherrill always seemed to find ways to take care of me without drawing attention….tucking ribbons for my hair into my valentine bag or new panties into my Easter basket. She was patient when I came in each day without homework done or papers signed…Mama never checked these things and when it was time to sign my report card, the only reason she did so was to keep the teacher from coming to visit. Nobody was allowed into our world and Mama always doing just enough to keep them out.
Over the years I’ve prayed for Mrs. Sherrill, asking God to bless her for the kindness and unconditional love she extended to me…not just while I was in her class during first grade, but for the next two years when I would rather stay by her side on the play ground, than to play with childhood friends. She planted a seed in my heart that year, that others would water and God would grow. I often asked God for the opportunity to thank her.
It would be over thirty years later; when it appeared that I would lose most of the people I love due to speaking the truth…. God would allow me the privilege to thank her. I reached out to the elementary school from my childhood in Mena, Arkansas. I sent a note to the principal and the school counselor and asked them to share what Mrs. Sherrill had done in my life all those years before and thank each teacher for the investment in the lives of children….this simple gesture brought comfort to my breaking heart. I was drowning in the pain of the present and longing for unconditional love from the past.
God so graciously allowed me to hear from my first grade teacher that week…she was now Mrs. (Barbara) Genung, but her heart was the same gentle and loving woman I’d known all those years before and she was still teaching first grade and loving all those babies in her class. I began to cry as I read her email.…sobs shaking my body, I knew this was God’s tender way of reminding me that He would never leave me or forsake me…this would happen for weeks after as Barbara and I emailed almost daily. This was the beginning of unspeakable healing from the most closed off places of the heart of a wounded little girl.
On one occasion I shared with Barbara that I often dreamed she was my mother when I was a child and often found myself hoping and praying for a mother like her. She said something to me in response that brings a smile to my heart and tears to my eyes even now….She called me the daughter of her heart. I’m not sure she truly understands what a wealth of grief of feeling completely alone and abandoned; she lifted by that one sentence. I love her with the heart of a little girl who knows Her Heavenly Father, The Father of Lights, brought the mother of my heart back into my life for such a time as this.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.