1: Some Kind of Miracle

1: Some Kind of Miracle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

Some Kind of Miracle

In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.

~Henry Ward Beecher

Her name was Jean. She taught first grade. She drove a sputtering old Volkswagen Jetta with dull blue paint and frayed bucket seats. As a single mother with one young son, she found that the car served her needs. It wasn’t the speediest vehicle, but Jean was never late to work. In fact, each school day she was the first teacher to arrive and the last teacher to leave.

Jean took great care to plan instruction, create assessments, and decorate her classroom. Parents in the neighborhood would beat down the principal’s door to have their children assigned to her class. Jean could teach a mouse to read, and all her students passed into second grade with advanced vocabularies and language skills. Needless to say, she was a gifted teacher.

One August, the faculty returned from summer break to see Jean drive up to school with a carload of children. Two sisters in high school had found themselves living in a dangerous environment. They did not want to enter foster care. They asked the caseworker to contact their first grade teacher. Jean lived in a modest home with her son. Yet, she took the sisters in. One of the girls even had a baby. Jean welcomed the baby into her home, too.

Packed with children, the little blue Jetta sputtered onward. Each day, even though Jean took her son and daughters to school and shuttled the baby to daycare, she was still the first teacher in the school parking lot.

During lunch, while faculty members exchanged life stories in the teachers’ lounge, Jean never complained about her new responsibilities. She did, however, speak about her car. With three new bodies to transport, the Jetta was too small. It burned oil. Jean needed something new. She wanted a van.

In the teachers’ lounge, Jean shared that a new van was not in her budget, especially with three new children in her home. Like a good friend, I listened to her concerns. There was nothing that I could do. At the time, I was a young teacher who lived at home with my mother. I did not have any disposable income. But in my heart I wanted to help Jean purchase a van to accommodate her growing family.

I don’t know how the idea came to me. But one day during lunch, I did not go to the teachers’ lounge. Instead, I sat at my desk and typed a one-page letter to The Oprah Winfrey Show. I shared Jean’s story. I told Oprah that Jean was a pillar in our school. Her influence as an educator was so great that two high school girls remembered her kind spirit when they were faced with foster care. They hoped for the impossible and they got it — their first grade teacher welcomed them into her home. And though her resources were limited, Jean made sacrifices to care for the girls as if they were her own.

A month passed. One morning the principal called Jean into his office. He wanted her to attend a “teachers’ conference” in Chicago. She had two days to pack. Jean made arrangements for childcare and flew to the Windy City. A limousine driver dashed her away to Harpo Studios for a surprise taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Oprah’s topic for that day was generosity. Midway through the taping, she called Jean to the stage. Oprah hugged the dedicated teacher and explained she had received a letter expressing her need for a van. The audience listened to the details of Jean’s story and clapped for her. Then Oprah announced that Jean would receive a new Chrysler van for her family. Cheers filled the studio and Jean trembled with disbelief. She was speechless, but her tears expressed her overwhelming gratitude.

The year was 1999. Six hundred miles away, I watched the joy of it all from the television in my living room. Jean’s big heart taught me many lessons that year. I learned that as we satisfy the needs of others, God supplies our needs. I learned that the simplest acts (like writing a letter) can require a daring faith. And nothing is impossible. Miracles happen every day.

~Alice Faye Duncan

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