December 26, 2007

A Warm Heart

2007 1536 page31 capet snow fell through the inky sky as Mrs. Jones* ambled carefully toward her lonely parked car. She was the last to leave, as usual. Arms full of presents from her students, papers to grade, and leftovers from her class’s Christmas party, she flipped her wrist, jiggling her car key up from the bunch.
The teacher punched the key into the ignition while little clouds of warm breath danced briefly in the cold air. Soon the car was humming, the defroster turned up high and hot. The last day of school before winter break had ended and homeward bound, Mrs. Jones sighed deeply and gratefully. In just under an hour—of slow winter driving—she’d be home. Home to prepare dinner, watch the snow deepen, and rest.
Plans for the next few weeks and thoughts about her students swirled around her mind. She worried about what type of break Danny would have: would he have any time to be a fifth-grade kid, or would he have to be the man of the house while his single-parent mom worked doubles? She smiled to herself as she imagined Sarah’s delight at the surprise her parents planned to unveil on Christmas. The smile turned into 
a grin as she thought about her grandbaby’s reaction to the sparkly garland her husband had strung along the tops of doorways around the house. And what about the promised items for the church’s food basket distribution? Carefully pulling out onto the deserted state road, the grin melted a bit as Mrs. Jones began compiling her mental list of things to do.
Half a mile later, the grin disappeared entirely as she saw a flickering shadow in the rearview mirror. Something was behind the car, gaining on her with a sure, slow, and steady pace. At first the wobbly flicker of reflectors and a shadowy mass was all that the teacher could distinguish. But rapidly it became clear that the thing was a person. A person riding a bicycle. In the snow. In the dark.
2007 1536 page31Heart thumping harder with each passing second, Mrs. Jones slowed down. The rider, now about 10 feet from the back bumper, pressed on. Recognition lighting her eyes, the teacher gasped. She engaged the emergency flashers and stopped the car along the narrow shoulder. Taking one last look in the mirror at the tear-stained cheeks and wildly whirling hair, Mrs. Jones jumped out of the Buick.
The teen girl on the now teetering bike hiccupped the teacher’s name as warm tears traced over the frozen ones on her face. Her tawny skin was ashen, her sneakers and threadbare clothing soaked. “I, I, I’m so, so g-glad you stopped. I thought you w-wouldn’t s-see me.” The girl tried to climb off the bike but numb limbs and bare, clawed hands wouldn’t cooperate. Frustration leaked out more sobs. “I n-need help,” the girl explained needlessly as the teacher was already reaching for her.
Nestled in the warm front passenger seat and wearing Mrs. Jones’s gloves, the girl, teeth still rattling, recounted her situation after gentle prompting. “My mom kicked me out. She said she’s had it with me. I remember you telling me when I was in your class to ask if I ever needed anything. I didn’t know where else to go and thought you might still be at school.” Astonished, Mrs. Jones realized that the girl had ridden miles to find her.
“When I saw you pull out of the school before I got there, I got scared. So I rode faster. I’m so glad you stopped,” the girl repeated.
The teacher already knew most of the story. The troubled girl had dropped out of high school. She had failed to get a job, and her single mother, raising three other girls, had followed through on an ultimatum made months before. Unyielding on both sides of the conflict (for various reasons) had resulted in the girl’s wintry ride into uncertainty and despair. But she had found her teacher.
The teacher’s plans changed that night. Bed linens were swapped, phone calls were made, and the future (short-term) was discussed. The girl stayed with Mrs. Jones and her family until Christmas, when a church member volunteered to take her in. She was back with Mrs. Jones for several more weeks in the new year, then she lived with another church member for a time. Then another church member took her in. Eventually, she got a job, returned home briefly, floundered again, got another job, started working on obtaining her GED. . . .
The girl’s story is still being written—and a happy ending isn’t certain. But one thing is: the molten love of the Savior passed through the heart of the teacher and warmed the frozen girl on that desolate December night.
*Not her real name.
Kimberly Luste Maran, an assistant editor of Adventist Review, is thankful for the unfailing love God warms us with each day.