When I was much younger, I taught Vacation Bible School with Marsha, a woman known for her firmness. If she thought that she was right (and she usually was), she didn’t mind telling off the governor of the state. Marsha loved strict guidelines. She saw that each child was lovingly but firmly taught what their boundaries were.
Those were the days of two week VBS. Cooped up in that classroom with 25 children for three to four hours each day for ten days, you came to know the people you worked with pretty well. The first day, it appeared that Marsha would give no one any slack.
But the first week wasn’t over until I became acutely aware that there was an exception to her rules–her son, Johnny. Johnny was allowed to break many of the rules which she meticulously enforced with the other children. He coud go to the bathroom even if it weren’t break time–exactly 10:13AM. Jouhhy could not seem to control his temper and he was premitted to show outbursts of anger that would’ve sent a lesser child to the corner. He was immature for second grade.
The other children seemed to understand Johnny. They didn’t resent the flagrant bending of the rules where he was concerned. They even encouraged Marsha’s favoritism. I wasn’t as understanding. When he snatched the picture of Zacheus from my hands and pressed the last green crayon down so hard that it broke from the pressure, my tolerance snapped.
As I look back, I realize that Johnny probably bordered on intellectual disabilities. He was certainly within the autistic spectrum. Extremely bright in some areas, he obviously had learning disabilities in other areas which left him frustrated and angry. Additionally, he was extremely hyperactive. Forty years ago, when I was teaching this class, those weren’t things which were recognized or treated.
After Johnny tore the picture from my hand, I could no longer hold my concern. After the children had been dismissed for the day, I’d fumed while I rearranged the chairs setting up the room for the next morning. Finally, I approached Marsha. As usual, she was in the corner fussing over Johnny. I asked to speak to her alone. We went into the adjourning room.
“How can you justify treating Johnny so differently from the other children? He’s allowed to come and go as he pleases. It seems that every rule was made just so he can break it. You wouldn’t let any other child in this church act like he does. I don’t believe it’s fair.”
Marsha fingered the papers stacked in the corner. Her eyes were lixed on the pile of papers. She was expressionless. “You’re right,” she conceded. “I am different with Johnny because Johnny is different. He is not capable of as much pressure as other children his age. That is the reason I’m teaching this class, I want him to be as normal as possible but without having to perform perfectly.
She raised her head and looked my square in the eye. “I see to it that he performs up to the level he can. I know my son. He wants to obey. He doesn’t want to be angry. He just can’t.” Picking up her teacher’s manual, she said with the firmness that only a distraught, protective mother can display, “I know Johnny’s heart. He does the best he can.”
I walked away with a new appreciation for God’s redemption that I’d seen exhibited through Marsha. God sees our potential, as well as our deficits. After that day, each time I saw Johnny, I saw myself–breaking crayons and yanking pictures from the hands of others. But thanks to Marsha, I understand God’s redemptive power working in my life, through his great love.