While growing up in Italy; Miss Chennault, my fifth grade teacher at Brindisi Elementary on San Vito Air Force Base, was my favorite. Years later, I’ve often reflected back and wondered if she knew of my struggles at home. She seemed to favor the skinny, neglected, stringy-haired girl who sometimes wore scarves to try and cover up her dirty hair. Miss Chennault seemed to know that underneath the burden of shame, anxiety, and abuse; there was a pure little girl with a shiny heart of gold, worth refining and polishing.
One Halloween, as an art project, our class made witches out of paper, paint, fabric, and buttons. I no longer celebrate Halloween, nor do I have anything to do with witches. God is greater and more powerful; He has given me something sweeter from that time; the memory of Miss Chennault’s loving favor. Under her supervision, she picked me (ME!) to choose which five art projects would receive a prize of a sweet treat. I took the assignment seriously, and stayed after school, taking my time. I found myself hovering in front of the art pieces of the two most unpopular, least liked girls in the class. Their designs were among the best work.
I looked at Miss Chennault questioningly. “I know you’ll choose the very best,” she nodded. She trusted me! Then it was settled: both of the girls would receive a prize, along with two of my friends, who happened to be both popular, and creative. In addition, I chose a very shy classmate named Monica to receive a prize as well. I have to be honest; if memory serves me correctly, I was also allowed to choose myself, so we ended up with six winners in all.
The next morning, I held my breath, anxious for the students to arrive… and arrive they did! “What? How could you pick her’s?” Surprisingly no one really cared that I’d also voted for myself; I was the class artist, so no one seemed to mind. It was the unexpected winners that threw them off. “You picked (—insert child’s name here, followed by a word that means stinky)!” The nick name for the child in our class who threw tantrums was being whispered around the room. 18 pairs of eyes were turned onto mine. “Whyyyy?”
Miss Chennault was watching me too. But it didn’t matter, because I no longer cared about impressing my beloved teacher. I spoke words from my heart; words that I meant. I held my head high and took a deep breath: “Because their’s were the best; I liked them the best.” Some of the children gathered as I began to point out the details: “Look at the buttons. Look how the fabric is shaped, and see how she used straw for hair instead of just coloring… Look!”
The children began to settle down. Some were murmuring in agreement. “She’s right,” they said. Though I felt relieved that they were no longer attacking me, the best part was yet to come: The most unpopular girls in the class were coming up to me with huge smiles and twinkling eyes. Each of them hugged me. “Thank you! Thank you for picking me!”
“You’re welcome,” I said, hugging them back. “I picked you, because you deserved a prize. Yours really were the best, and I really like them!” Nobody much grumbled when the winners finally received their well-deserved sweet prizes. The air was different. Everyone seemed to belong; in that moment there were no favorites. It was anyone’s game. We were equals who had all been hoping for a prize, whether or not we deserved it.
That fall event began to change our classroom. A girl with many friends chose some of those who had none, which began to change the views of others. Shy Monica and I became good friends, and I tried harder to be accepting and patient and kind to those the others rejected. A wise teacher had chosen a well-loved compassionate student to judge; a popular student who, underneath, like the others, was just as insecure, anxious, and hurting. Had she known?
What happens when we are given favor for no apparent reason at all? What if someone good, wise, and kind; can see something beautiful lying underneath the dirt and grime of our sinful, soiled lives? What if we are considered as ones to be avoided, but we are actually chosen; the very ones who have been picked for the prize?
God is the Ultimate Judge in control of our eternity. It may feel scary to think of our lives in His Hands, but the silver lining is that there is actually nothing to fear! God loves us all! God chooses us all! He sees beyond the ugliness and stench of our sins and circumstances; He sees the beauty of us created in His Own Image! God picks us all! He wants to shine down His favor upon each one of us. He chooses us, whether we’ve done our best work or not, and He wants to give each and every one of us the same amazing prize!
MY God, YOUR God, The ONE and ONLY God; is The Perfect, Compassionate, and Generous Judge. He gives out his Grand Prize to every single one of us… salvation through His Son Jesus Christ! But we must first receive it with thanks by accepting it! The best prize we can ever hope to receive is eternal life in Heaven with Jesus, along with one day reuniting with our family and friends who have also received God’s greatest gift.
It’s easier to say yes to Jesus than to learn the ABC’s! Jesus died for you! Will you simply accept his sacrificial gift and ask him to forgive your sins? Follow Jesus! Run your race and claim your prize! “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14 NIV).
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
A year later, our Air Force family moved from Italy to San Antonio, Texas. As often happens, another family from my fifth grade class followed right behind us. In fact, they moved right down the road into the house where my friend Jennifer had recently lived. Coincidently, Jennifer’s Family was now living in the same apartment where we had first lived off-base while stationed in Italy. My classmate from fifth grade was now living in Jennifer’s house, just a few down from our new home in Texas! This classmate so happens to be one of the classmates from the above story. After she moved in, she then proceeded to run around our new middle school, telling everyone in sixth grade that we were best friends. At the time, I was mortified.
But what was God doing in this situation? He was working on my heart. I’d been saved since age five, but recently baptized, and I felt closer to God than ever. As neighborhood kids do, we hung out with each other, even though we had absolutely nothing in common. One day as we stood outside on her driveway, leaning against the car, the talk turned to the subject of God and Heaven. I told her how Jesus is the one who gets us there. It was my first experience of witnessing to a peer about our salvation in Jesus Christ.
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