When I was twelve years old, my dad lost the job he’d had for over twenty years. He was 52 years old. He was a nervous guy, and I inherited that trait from him. During those days, he worked on claiming the promises of scripture. He kept Isaiah 41:10 on a 3×5 card in his shirt pocket, from where he would regularly withdraw it, read it, and then try to say it without looking. He also kept that same verse taped to his bathroom mirror. I can still see his distinct scrawl as it stared back at me when I do the weekly cleaning:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
He died suddenly in 2004 when I was only 26, but he did not waste those years. He didn’t know it, but he was preparing me for a multitude of sunless days. His testimony of constant toil, enduring love, and endless dependence upon Scripture has carried me through my life. The memories of his laugh, his trumpet playing (“Reveille”, anyone?), and his boyish orneriness still bring a smile to my face.
I remember how he had to start over with a new career. He began selling life insurance at 52 years old. I saw him study for the tests that insurance people have to pass. I saw his nerves, and then I saw that 3×5 card. I saw him fail at finding success in that career, pivot from that disappointment, and begin school for small engine repair at age 60. I saw him achieve his dream of working with his hands, getting all greasy and grimy, smiling from ear to ear! He could have quit, he wanted to quit, but he didn’t quit.
In 1958, when my dad was only 21 years old, he lost his dad suddenly to a heart attack. My grandmother Courtney, who was 50 found herself without an income. She started college at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway to become a teacher. To supplement her income in college, she worked in the evenings at a school for mentally disabled children. Part of her job was to clean the very tall windows of the building. This was hard work. But my dad was there – he showed up after his own job and cleaned them for her.
But that’s not all. My mother’s family is just as tenacious. My grandmother had her sixth child when she was 42 – that’s how old I am! That youngest child, my Uncle Gary, fell sixteen feet from a scaffold while building a barn on the family farm. He lost the use of his legs from the fall when he was in his twenties. In the hospital, the nurses came to him to say that the occupational therapist would be coming by to explain what careers were available for a paraplegic. He looked at her incredulously and said, “I’m farming!” And that’s what he’s done for over forty years. He’s used his upper body strength to climb a rope to get into the combine. He’s been stranded for hours in the rain, heat or cold when his tractor broke down or got stuck in the mud – in the days before cell phones! He has overcome physical obstacles that I cannot comprehend.
If Dad, Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, and Uncle Gary didn’t quit, how can I? God saw them through tremendous challenges and heartaches. And God has not changed.
I am about to embark on a new and difficult journey: I’m 42 years old, and I’m a college freshman. I just completed my first classes this summer.I am majoring in Social Studies Education and I hope to find a job teaching after graduation.
Before you offer your concerned words of warning, don’t worry, I know it will be difficult. I know that working in public schools can be frustrating. My own mother was an elementary education teacher, a special ed teacher, and an elementary principal for my entire upbringing. She was “Arkansas Young Educator of Year” in the beginning of her career, and only soared to greater heights from there in the world of education. I watched her put in countless hours, write lesson plans (or IEPs), and deal with parents. As a principal, I watched her juggle schedules, plan school lunch menus, look for substitute teachers (that could take a long time some mornings!), attend school board meetings, discipline students, go to band concerts after a long day, and so much more. I have a lot to live up to when it comes to following in her footsteps. I have learned from her that the best way to teach is to view it as a ministry, not a job. Teaching was her ministry, and she glorified God in a magnificent way through her service. What a blessing to have her counsel and support as I start down this road. What a joy to have a mother standing on the sidelines, cheering me on!
I’m so thankful that in my darkest hours, I have been held up by these men and women, whose ordinary lives had an extraordinary impact upon my own. When I am ready to give up, I need only to look to these true heroes that I knew quite well: Grandmother Courtney, Grandmother Leonard, Uncle Gary, and Mom and Dad. I know I will feel alone on this journey – I already have! But I am not alone. I have the Lord, and I have these courageous individuals who have gone on before me and blazed the trail. They have left breadcrumbs of encouragement on that trail. Their words echo down through their lives, “Don’t quit.” In a voice that sounds just like my dad’s, I hear, “You can do it, partner.” And then I see him pull out that marvelous 3×5 card: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee…”