First Week of Spring

Travel back in time with me… It was almost 10:30 when I climbed the stairs to turn in for the night. Mike had gone to bed before me as he had an early meeting the next morning. An evening spent calling my students’ parents had exhausted me, and I was more than ready for sleep. As I rested my foot on the fourth stair, the phone rang. I hopped over the three stairs beneath me to grab the phone before its second ring. Hopefully, Mike and our five-year-old son would sleep through the clamor. “Hello,” I said somewhat gingerly, hoping all the while that this poorly timed call wasn’t bringing bad news our way. My caller wasted no time in demanding, “What did you call my house for?” I replied that she must have the wrong number as I hadn’t called anyone I didn’t know that evening. “I have your number right here. What did you call me for?”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that Kinnie’s mom wasn’t home when I called her earlier. She was the only parent whom I couldn’t reach. Not wishing to annoy this poor woman any further, I asked, “Are you Kinnie’s mom?” That did it! I had to pull my ear from the phone as she screamed, “Who are you to be calling about my little girl. Who are you???” I prayed for peace as I continued, “I’m Mrs. Penich, Kinnie’s reading teacher.” After a short silence, Kinnie’s mom continued, “Yes, I met you at Kinnie’s school. What did Kinnie do now?” For the next five minutes, I explained that Kinnie had evolved into a great little reader. She read fluently and she remembered every detail of the stories she read. Kinnie had also blossomed as a writer. Our onetime single sentence stories had doubled in length and complexity. Before I’d finished to report all that I wanted to share, I stopped. Kinnie’s mom was crying. “I’m so sorry,” I said. I thought you’d be happy to hear this wonderful news…”

After calming herself, Kinnie’s mom explained that she hadn’t heard a positive comment regarding her daughter since Kinnie entered kindergarten the year before. When Kinnie was selected to receive reading assistance, the poor woman fully expected her daughter to repeat first grade and the same sad cycle of failure she’d experienced a generation earlier. When I assured her that I had nothing but respect for Kinnie’s hard work and amazing progress, the woman cried some more. This time, I could hear the smile behind the tears as she apologized for her rudeness earlier in our conversation. She went on to thank me and to promise that she’d be certain to listen to Kinnie read every night before she put her daughter to bed. Kinnie’s mom made good on her promise, and Kinnie completed her work with me much sooner than expected. Kinnie excelled in her classroom, too. By Valentine’s Day, when she passed me with a tray filled with cupcakes, Kinnie’s mom had become a regular at school for the best of reasons.

Kinnie’s academic troubles labeled her an outcast far too early in her schooling. Kinnie’s mom lived the results of her own failure every day. Nonetheless, a single phone call changed everything. The truth is that I didn’t do anything extraordinary for this little family. I taught Kinnie as best I could. I kept her parent informed as best I could. When I heard the hopelessness in Kinnie’s mom’s voice, I followed through as best I could. I simply did my job…

When he met the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus didn’t perform any dramatic miracles either. He simply struck up a conversation –yes, one that was off limits in his culture– and he listened. The Samaritan Woman’s attitude conveyed something other than a content and peace-filled life. Jesus responded to what he heard by offering this woman all that she needed to find true joy and fulfillment. Jesus didn’t lecture this woman on her failed marriages nor did he lecture her on her attitude. Jesus simply asked that she open herself up to the waters of eternal life. This simple conversation so filled the woman with hope that she spread Jesus’ good news throughout her town. Many turned to Jesus because this one-time outcast pointed them in Jesus’ direction. My guess is that Kinnie and her mom have done the same for many who’ve crossed their paths. Today, Jesus invites you and me to respond to our sisters and brothers near and far in kind, especially when life’s trials or our own imperfections urge us to walk in the opposite direction.

©2011 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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