The previous year I had come out of a school that was, by today’s standards, abusive to put it mildly and getting no better as I got older. After begging my mom to send me to another school and seeing she was not going to budge, I played the only card I had not played – I want to go live with my father! It was March I think and I was on a plane to Atlanta and I was going to be enrolled in public school for the first time in my life. Because I was the “new” kid from Miami, I was of interest to many. I made lots of friends, fast, I had only a handful in the school I left behind, despite my best efforts to “fit in”. After completing 7th grade I was on my way to high school, that is how it worked in the school district my dad lived in. My mother wanted me to come home and I said I would not go back to “that school”, so she agreed to let me attend another private school started by my first grade teacher.
Just for some background, I was terrified of school, I cried everyday, even some in college. In first grade I had Mrs. Santos, so it was better and my best friend Tina was in my class too. We were teacher’s pets, so we had no other friends, but that was okay because we had each other. Anyway, Mrs. Santos was the most loving woman I had ever met and I enjoyed being around and her and felt somewhat normal and safe in her presence.
Fast forward, it’s now 1984 and I am on my way to Mrs. Santos' school. She is the founder, principal and the 8th grade teacher. Now in my mind it just didn’t get any better than this, except that our 8th grade class was 20 strong and we were ALL friends. It was the best year of schooling for me and probably the happiest I ever was. Again, I felt loved and safe everyday! The school only went to 8th grade that meant graduation was inevitable. I was valedictorian for our class and had my speech prepared, but I cried the whole time, so Mrs. Santos read it. Everyone cried, and I mean cried a lot! We were like family and we were all going to different schools, I was actually moving about a half hour away. It was not a happy day!
Since 1985 I have kept in touch with Mrs. Santos yearly. Christmas cards, letters, visits and birth announcements. Our relationship has changed over the years as it should now that I am an adult. I have had two opportunities to see her this year. In February I took my kids to the school and showed them around and they got to meet her and her husband. It was a wonderful time. Then she said, that they would be having a tribute to my class this year at graduation and prom because it was the 25th anniversary of our graduation and we were the first graduating class. I was so excited. I began to feel the Lord’s gentle nudging that this was Him working.
Mrs. Santos invited me to give my speech from '85 at graduation and I was excited to have the opportunity, but even more excited when she gave me her blessing to say “whatever you want”. The Lord’s hand was moving. In prayer He lead me to verses of encouragement for the graduates. I asked her if she wanted me to tell her what I was going to say and she said she did not need to see it ahead of time.
I had the awesome opportunity to meet her, her family and the 8th grade graduates for a weekend of fun at Busch Gardens and Adventure Island just before graduation.
I was able to get in touch with a few friends from my graduating class and they were going to be at graduation too. It was thrilling! I had Isabella and Annais with me, which made it extra special.
On the drive down, I listened to Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and it solidified a lot of what I heard the Lord speaking to my heart. My kids and I had prayer time the day before and asked the Lord to prepare hearts for what He had to say.
Tuesday morning before graduation as I got ready the Lord spoke to me and said, “You were valedictorian 25 years ago because I have something to say to these people TODAY.” Wow, knock me over! This made it all the more exciting because my purpose was sure.
When Mrs. Santos introduced me she said that she was not giving a speech that day, that I was giving the principal’s address. Did you catch that? A high-school dropout with some college, the principal’s address? This is how God works. He instantly put me in position of authority and although most people there didn’t know me, I now had their attention. They would HEAR His word. She also said that I was here to give them a message of HOPE. Remember she did not know what I was going to say. So, for the first time I gave my speech, at least parts of it. I also shared the verses the Lord gave me and I told them that He loved them. That He died for them, individually and He has a purpose and a plan, a good one, for each of them. I told them 25 years ago I needed a family and the Lord sets the lonely in families and the Lord had brought me to that school. I told them how He rescued me out of deep waters because He delighted in me and how He delights in them. I told them their lives were before them and mine was still before me - in Him. I also shared with them what the Lord had spoken to my heart that morning, that HE had a message for them. I only spoke 8-10 minutes, but as I took my seat I was humbled by the opportunity the Lord gave me to share with people that I love. Best of all my oldest two were a part of all this and watched God work.
I went out to lunch with my two best friends from 8th grade and they both told me they were proud of me, even one of their husbands told me. I just smiled because I knew it was the Lord. They had nothing to be proud of me for. They don’t know what kind of house I live in, car I drive or much else about me for that matter, but they said they were proud. That just doesn’t “happen”. The world only tells us they are proud of us when we produce evidence that we are worthy of their praise. The only thing I shared with them was His love and now that - that is something to be PROUD of!
Who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's - Psalm 103:4-5
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us Eph 3:20
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10