Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Serving Children

When I started volunteering at our local elementary school, I was just trying to give myself something meaningful to do as my last child set off on his own, but soon my service became more than just an attempt to fill an empty nest. As the year progressed, my health quickly deteriorated. Spending the day with a class of energetic eight-year-olds certainly helped divert my attention from a nearly overwhelming sense of anxiety and from the exhaustion I felt due to not being able to sleep well. I also had to deal with considerable pain, and the knowledge that the doctors were not only unable to discover what was the matter, but could not give me any help or hope. Under these stressful circumstances, I found the warm, supportive atmosphere in the classroom very comforting.

Though I received a lot of emotional strength from being at the school, I came home completely exhausted. My husband understood how important this service was to me. He knew that I had an elementary teaching credential, but had given up a career in teaching to raise our four children. He also knew that I had dreamed of having a class of my own when our children were raised, and that this volunteering might be as close as I would ever come to realizing that dream. Because he understood, he said, “A teacher has to teach”, and he cheerfully got our dinner and helped keep up the house.

One fall, after I had been volunteering for a few years, it became evident that I would not be able to go down to the school even for the two hours twice a week as I had been doing the year before. I could barely walk and my eyes would only painfully focus for a short time in the morning. I felt depressed. Helping the children with creative writing had given my life purpose. It was something that I could still do even though I could do little else. It helped me feel that I was accomplishing something important when I saw a child stand a little straighter and feel confident that they could write. It was fun to encourage budding writers and poets and see them discover their talents. I also enjoyed being around the children since they had no idea that I was seriously ill. It helped me to forget myself, and it was good to know that I still had something to give. I hoped that maybe a little spark from me might continue in their lives.

My husband knew that I didn’t want to just have to stay in my house alone all day thinking of my pain, so he decided that he would enable me to continue serving. Each week for the entire year he went down to the school on Monday, picked up the children’s writing, brought it home for me to comment upon, and then returned it to the school on Friday. He even took pictures of the children so I could see what they looked like.

My husband’s quiet service deeply impressed me, and I will always be grateful for his enabling me to help others when I really didn’t have the strength to do it.  Having grown up without the Gospel and watching my parents divorce, I had never experienced such love. Year after year as he has helped me to serve, my love for him has grown. At last I feel completely loved and secure.

My faith in Heavenly Father has also grown as I served at the school. Often I had to pray for strength to be able to walk into the school and then to have a clear mind so I could help the children. Always Heavenly Father helped me. Each time He sustained me, my faith in His love for me has grown.

Serving also helped me to develop other important relationships which provided me with support at a time when I needed it most.. For many years I had known the teacher who invited me to help in her classroom. She was a member of my ward and had been the third grade teacher of my two youngest children, but it wasn’t until I volunteered in her classroom that we became good friends.  As I served in her 3rd grade classroom, I experienced her love. She was always patient with me as I struggled and often wasn’t able to do what I wished to help the children. She’d just reassure me saying she was grateful for whatever help I could give.

When the Lord led us to understand and receive treatment for my condition, I was able to progress as a teacher. The many hours I spent observing this master teacher, helping in her classroom, and substitute teaching all helped to build confidence in myself as a teacher. I was even able to take courses and keep up my teaching credential which I would not have done if I hadn’t volunteered at the school.

At last I feel content with my life. I had always longed to teach professionally, but through my experience of volunteering at the school, I came to know myself better. I now know what I really want, and it isn’t to teach full time. I enjoy being a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. I like to have time to study, do family history, write, and serve in the Church. No longer do I feel that I have missed doing something I really wanted to do. I now know that a few hours a week is enough to fulfill my desire to teach and still leave me with time for my other interests.

Though I hope I have helped some children these last ten years, I know they have helped me more. They have shared with me their enthusiasm for life, and helping them has helped me to feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my life.  I feel that I have a place in the community and smile when children wave and say, “There’s Mrs. Merrick!”

My service has helped me develop a close friendship with the teacher and experience the depth of my husband’s love.  Serving at the school has also strengthened my faith in Heavenly Father’s love and helped me to grow as I have developed my abilities as a teacher. I’m sure I have received far more than I have given.

Knowing that with our youngest beginning his senior year of high school, I would soon be an empty-nester, I began to cnsider what to do next in my life. I knew I wanted to do more than just sitting around waiting for my children to come home and visit me. I needed something to do. I had always loved teaching since I was a little girl and tried to round up kids “to teach”. I had graduated many years before form BYU receiving an elementary teaching certificate. Wondering if volunteering at our local elementary school might be an option for me, I asked friend who was a teacher who I should talk to about helping at the school. She paused for a moment then suggested, “Why don’t you come into my 3rd grade class?” That was ten years ago, and I’m still there.
At first neither she nor I knew how to use my abilities, but soon we settled into my helping the children with creative writing.

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