October 9 – Back when Dale and I still lived in Erie, PA, I used my skills as a teacher to volunteer as a tutor at the Adult Learning Center. The following blog post is about one of the people I met during those enjoyable years.
When a young high school drop-out passes his GED test, when an older foreign-born lady improves her skills in math, when someone gives me a big hug and says, “If it weren’t for your coming here to help me, I would stay home!” or when a student volunteers to tutor another student at the school, I am thankful I can be part of the Center program.
In the morning when I leave home, I ask the Lord to make me a blessing to those I tutor, and to be able to help them as they need. When I hear of the problems they face – problems with children or other family members, with finances, with the seeming inability to develop sound study habits, with discouragement, I wonder how they can cope with their troubles. Their infectious smiles and enthusiasm are meant to cover the heartaches that each one has.
Yes, they are inspirations to me. I think of Maria, a sprightly, slight little Italian lady of 77, who works at her lessons as if her life depended on reaching her goals. Way back during the early years of her marriage, she became the mother of four little girls. When her husband had a lengthy stay in the hospital, she had to milk the cows, shovel tons of coal into the bin to keep the stove going, feed and clothe her little ones (all under the age of six), do the housework, and still keep healthy and happy.
And no, Maria didn’t volunteer this information so that I would feel sorry for her. Only when I became well acquainted with her and wondered about her early life did she give the facts. Then when I told her what a soldier she must have been, she quickly shushed me with, “No, it was not hard. No, no. God gave me the strength to do what I had to do.”
When her husband lost his job in the mines, the family moved to Erie where he became a maintenance man, and Maria went to work with the Home Health Services. Washing, housekeeping, and cooking were her jobs, but being a companion to those who needed her was her real calling.
At St. Mary’s Home, she baked bread, rolls, pies, and cookies for the elderly who lived there. Through the years, Maria was always ready to help her neighbors and friends. She often gave them tokens of her love– handmade articles or tasty food. And how do I know she makes tasty food? One day she shyly gave me a plate of very delicious cinnamon rolls, the kind that make you say ‘Yummy!’ and lick your fingers when they are gone!”
Today her four daughters are a credit to their hardworking, uncomplaining mother. All have chosen a professional career–social worker, nutritionist, nurse, and teacher. One of these daughters suggested to Maria one day, “We have all had our schooling now. Why don’t you go back to school and get the education you’ve always wanted?” That decision to return to the classroom after an absence of so many years took a lot of courage and determination, and this little lady succeeded, I know, because she made up her mind to do so. Rising before six on school days, she takes care of cleaning and cooking, besides studying for her classes before she leaves her home.
One Christmas, Maria did something that made a deep impression on me, something l will never forget. When she handed me a small envelope, I opened what I thought was a greeting card. But it wasn’t. Inside I found the promise that her church group would remember me during a number of church services during the season. And while my beliefs are different than Maria’s, I really appreciated this gift. Giving Maris a hug, I said, “Maria, you know we don’t go to the same church, but I do thank you from the heart. I appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness even more than the gift!” Maria’s answer? “I know we are of different faiths, but I love you, and you are my friend. Your God is my God, too.”
In these days when it seems as if almost everyone, individually or in groups, is warring about something, when many people know nothing about unselfish love, what a joy it is to know folks like Maria. I am reminded of what Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another: s have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34,35.
And again, just before He ascended to heaven: “I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God, and your God. “John 20:17. Yes, it is a real joy to be able to give of myself to help others, and then in turn, to be blessed and inspired by the very ones who need that help. And, Maria, I love you too! – CHRIS