Recently Discovered Lessons

Posted on July 25, 2011 

This week I have been horrified by the accounts coming out of eastern Africa. There is a major famine in Somalia. Refugees are flooding into parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. Some of the most haunting stories to me are of parents who have had to leave dying children behind in an effort to save the lives of their remaining children.

What to do? How to respond?

In typical fashion, I found my mind taking a very odd turn as I faced this dilemma. I found myself thinking about my high school civics teacher, Sr. Teresa Jane. When I was a freshman in high school, the state passed a regulation requiring all high school students to have a year of Civics education. My high school could not afford to hire new teachers, so they spread the classes among many different teachers. I got Sr. Teresa Jane.

Until this week, I thought I only learned three things in Sr. Teresa Jane’s class. One: Sewing was a very important skill all women should have. (Want to guess what Sr. Teresa Jane’s primary subject matter was?) Two: Any answer to a civics question was acceptable as long as it sounded patriotic. (And sadly, the right answer could earn you a frown if it sounded even slightly critical of the United States of America.) And three: I learned a lot about Belize. Yes, Belize.

Sr. Teresa Jane was crazy about the missions in Belize. Every week she was raffling off some small item to help support Belize (which, by the way, is a small, poor, English speaking country in Central America). These were obviously items she had received free in the mail. Each week we would be tempted (tormented) by her appeals to buy nickel chances. I felt embarrassed for her. I couldn’t see how the $2.35 she might make in a week was going to do all that much for the missions in Belize. But week in and week out, she stood up there like a carney at the fair. Week after week we dutifully bought a ticket or two hoping it might help our grades. And each week some embarrassed girl had to go up front and receive the latest little token she had won. Sr. Teresa Jane would hand over the notepad with kittens on it as though it were the keys to a new car.

Flash forward to my life today. I am a mom of four busy children worried about my fellow moms throughout the world. I really want to be a great parent and save the world. I just can’t seem to find the right super hero outfit that will allow me to do it. In worrying about these things this week, I remembered Sr. Teresa Jane. I realized I learned things from Sr. Teresa Jane that may be even more helpful than super powers and a cape.

First, I should not let the size of a problem keep me from doing whatever small thing I can to help. Sr. Teresa Jane lived on the third floor of our high school, had taken a vow of poverty, and taught home economics in a small Catholic High School. She did not have much money to give to the missions in Belize. She did not have an audience of influential people to woo to the cause of Belize. All she had was a captive audience of bored Catholic school girls with loose change in their pockets. She didn’t get discouraged. She went to work. I need to follow her example of doing the small things I can do rather than being daunted by the size of the problem and my own lack of resources.

Second, Sr. Teresa Jane didn’t worry about what we thought of her. She spent a whole lot more time worrying about the missions in Belize rather than worrying about being the “cool teacher.” She was willing to look slightly foolish and be a bit annoying if it meant helping her cause. I need to worry more about the lessons I am teaching my kids rather than my popularity with them. If being annoying, naïve, and a “downer” at times helps a cause that is much bigger than myself, I need to do it with a smile on my face.            

And finally, Sr. Teresa Jane taught me that sometimes good seeds take a long time to germinate.  She sowed seeds each day of sacrifice and charity.  I, at least, scoffed at them when I was young. If you had told me then that I would write a ridiculously long blog about all I had learned from her I would have passed out from laughing. But now, I find myself realizing she handed me a treasure. I find myself valuing those lessons and hoping to emulate her. Can I be patient and have faith that the lessons I try to teach my kids will eventually take hold? Can I believe the small sacrifices and actions I take today will bear fruit in a big world filled with big problems? I hope so.

It was just a required civics class. But ultimately, Sr. Teresa Jane taught me so much more. Perhaps good lessons are never lost. They just bloom when most needed.

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