As school is about to begin I can't help but remember some of my own school starts as a kid. I had many good teachers, a few that I could have done without, and one that taught me lessons that changed my whole life. Mrs. Etta Mae Mann was my first introduction to school and boy did I love her!
I attended kindergarten in Garland, Texas. I turned 5 years old on the first day of school. For my kindergarten teacher friends you know what that means. I was the baby of the babies. You could only be one day younger than me and be allowed in that grade. While I felt quite grown and ready for school, there were definitely some things that weren't quite matured yet. I have vivid memories of things I did that year to compensate for any gaps. When I'd forget how to spell my last name I would pretend to have to go sharpen my pencil. On the sharpener shelf was a yellow egg carton that contained seashells I had brought for show-and-tell. In my mother's neat handwriting my name was written on a tiny label. I would slowly sharpen my pencil as I memorized the order of the letters I would need to write on my paper and then return to my seat. I learned that you don't have to know it all, you just have to know where to find the answers.
I have other great memories of lessons I learned that year. I remember a green construction paper kite made as we learned our letters. It won't fly we were told, but it was pretty to look at. I took it home from school and as I got out of my car the kite was grabbed by the wind. It CAN fly!!! I was ecstatic and couldn't wait to tell Mrs. Mann. I learned that the impossible is possible after all.
I LOVED Mrs. Mann. I did everything in my power to impress her. I would tell tall tales about where I lived, the exotic foods I liked (you know, exotic like fish sticks, which I hated, but apparently thought would be impressive). Maybe the reason I loved Mrs. Mann so much was because she loved me. One evening she invited my family to her home for dinner. She served the foods I had told her were my favorite. You guessed it, fish sticks. I had to choke down those fish sticks with a smile on my face! I learned a pretty valuable lesson that day- don't pretend to be someone you're not and always tell the truth!
But the lesson I learned that may have had the most impact came from Mrs. Mann and a coloring page of a tomato soup can. I assume we were learning about the letter T, that wasn't the part of the lesson that mattered that day. You see one of the things that hadn't matured in me very well yet was my coloring. My fine motor skills were a work in progress. When I colored I pressed very hard which would make a big mess on the paper. I struggled to stay in lines. More than ANYTHING I wanted to be the best artist in the class. I wanted to color the most beautiful tomato soup can in the whole wide world for Mrs. Mann. She deserved a picture that could stand up to the quality of the Mona Lisa. The harder I tried the worse it got. I still remember my little heart beating inside my chest as I began to get frustrated and feel like a failure. I can see my knuckles beginning to get white as I gripped the crayon tighter trying to control it. The more I tried to control it, the harder I gripped, the worse it got. I was out of the lines. It was a mess! My red crayon drawing began to look like someone had smashed a tomato on the page. As my frustration grew, a shadow fell across the page and Mrs. Mann leaned down and quietly said words that have forever changed my life. "Anna, just extend the boundaries." She put her hand over mine and showed me how to make new borders for my tomato soup can. By the time I finished my drawing it had a one inch border all the way around, BUT I WAS IN THE LINES! It wasn't perfect by most standards, but it was a Mona Lisa! I cannot even begin to tell you how those words, "Anna, just extend the boundaries" have impacted my life. When I run into obstacles that I don't know how to address I don't give up in frustration, I just extend the boundaries. When I have made a mess of things, I hear Mrs. Mann whisper in my ear and I just extend the boundaries. When solutions are no where to be found, I look outside the boundaries. The lesson learned from Mrs. Mann and a tomato soup can have served me well. I learned to think outside the boundaries which opened a whole new world of possibilities.
At the end of kindergarten my family moved to Shallowater. I only saw Mrs. Mann one other time in my life, but when I graduated from high school I received a card from her in the mail. Inside the card was a red rose that I had colored long ago. My picture was in the center. I remember that it had hung on a bulletin board in our classroom in her "Kinder-garden". And the coloring was quite nice for a kid who had made such a mess of things. I turned it over and found a message written in Mrs. Mann's script- "My all time favorite pupil Anna Masten". It was the best graduation present of all.
Now that I am older and maybe a little wiser, I see all sorts of spiritual lessons in the way Mrs. Mann lived her life and the lessons she taught me.
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26. (Just extend the boundaries.)
"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool." Proverbs 19:1. (Don't try to be bigger than you are. It is okay not to like fish sticks.)
Today Mrs. Mann is not around to whisper in my ear when things get hard, but the Holy Spirit is and he gently whispers encouragement and advice when I am still enough to listen.
Sometimes the harder I try to control things, the worse I make them. Rather than gripping harder to try to manage things, sometimes the power comes in letting go. Don't cling tighter to problems, lighten your grip! Let the Father place his hands over yours and show you how to navigate through the problem.
It is back to school time, but not just for kids. Maybe my lessons learned in kindergarten apply to you today. Are you having a hard time staying in the lines? Has your life become a mess? Does it seem impossible? Hear the soft whisper?