Story by Janet Seever
Autumn leaves drifted down on a sunny Saturday morning in late October 1985. I stood watching our children through a sliding glass door in the house where we were temporarily staying. Rachel, three, was rolling in the thick layer of leaves on the ground, while Tim, six, was busily making piles with a rake that was much too big for him. Noticing me standing there, Tim came over to the door.
“Mom, did you see the big pile of leaves I made?” he asked, a grin spreading across his face.
“Yes, I’ve been watching you,” I said. “You’re doing a great job.”
I was glad to see the two of them playing and acting like normal children. All the changes they had been through in the past three weeks had taken their toll, making Tim and Rachel into confused, fearful children. The changes had taken an emotional toll on me too.
Three weeks earlier, my critically ill husband, Dennis, our two children and I had boarded a plane in the Philippines where we had been doing mission work. Now we were half a world away in Minnesota. Tim, Rachel and I had stayed with various family members while my husband was hospitalized for open-heart surgery. Living out of two suitcases — all the worldly possessions we had with us — left us feeling uprooted.
A mechanical heart valve now clicked loudly in Dennis’s chest. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given just a few weeks to live, he now had a new lease on life through the surgery.
Throughout the ordeal, we had seen God’s provision for us in unexpected ways. This house where our children were now happily playing in the leaves was one of these provisions. Del and Louise, a couple from our church whom we knew only slightly, had graciously offered our family a place to stay for the first ten days after Dennis was out of the hospital. After our time with them, we would be moving into a house-sitting situation in another suburb.
Del and Louise’s house was in a Minneapolis suburb where we knew no one — a fact which made what happened the next Monday all the more remarkable.
A former teacher, Louise was concerned that Tim was missing school. After being away from school for three weeks, he was showing little interest in working on the reading and math workbooks I had brought with me.
“Tim really needs some structure to his days,” Louise told me that Saturday morning. “I know the principal at the local elementary school, and I’ve arranged for Tim to go to class there on Monday.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea for such a short time?” I asked. “After all, we’ll soon be moving and he’ll be attending a different school.”
Louise assured me that being in school was the best place for Tim and I hesitantly agreed.
Later that afternoon, as I thought over the plan to put Tim in school, I wondered how Tim would fit in. Would it be another traumatic experience for him? I had taught school previously and knew it could be difficult for a teacher to take a new student in for a short time. Other students already had a familiar routine. Would the teacher feel resentful having a student for only a few days? Would he be accepted by the other children?
That evening when I told Tim about the plan for him to go to school on Monday, he was not thrilled by the prospect.
“Mommy, I don’t want to go school,” he pleaded, fear showing in his brown eyes. “I want to stay here with you.”
That night I wrestled with the issue. “Lord, show me that I’m doing the right thing in sending Tim to school,” I prayed. “He’s scared and has been through so many changes already.”
On Monday morning Tim reluctantly got ready for school.
After breakfast, Dennis stiffly moved to a comfortable chair to do some reading. Since he was unable to watch an active three-year-old, Rachel came with us.
The autumn air felt crisp as Tim, Rachel and I got into the car with Louise, who drove us to the nearby school. After this first day, Tim would be able to ride a bus to get there.
Louise introduced me to the principal. Then she stood by the office holding Rachel’s hand–to keep her from following us — while the principal, Tim and I walked down the hall to the first-grade classroom.
“Miss Nibbe is good with children,” the principal assured me, tapping lightly at the doorway of the open classroom. “I’m sure she’ll make Tim feel right at home. I’ve already arranged with her for Tim to join her class.”
A pleasant woman about my age opened the door. After the principal introduced us to her as “Tim and his mother, Mrs. Seever,” Miss Nibbe turned to me. “I know you,” she said. “You’re Jan.”
I was stunned. “How did you know?” I gasped.
The principal looked dumbfounded.
“Your husband used to be active in our singles’ Bible study group about ten years ago,” explained Miss Nibbe. “The group still meets. When a couple of our group members heard that Dennis was critically ill in the Philippines, we all started praying for him. We’ve been praying for your family since that time.”
Then she turned to her class, “I want you to meet Tim, who has been living in a country which is far away. The country is called the Philippines. Please welcome Tim.”
“Andy, Joel and Christy,” she said to several students near the front of the room, “please show Tim the art project you’re working on.”
Tim was already happily absorbed in activity by the time I left.
As the principal and I walked down the hallway, he turned to me. “How did she know who you were?” He repeated the question several times, not quite believing what he heard.
On the ride back to the house with Louise, I started thinking about a get well card Dennis had received from the Bible study group. I knew about half of the people who had signed the card. Other names weren’t familiar to me.
When I got to the house, I found the card. Sure enough. One of the people who had signed that card was Marilyn Nibbe. And yes, Dennis did remember her as someone he knew from the group.
“Thanks, Lord,” I later prayed, “for showing me that you were taking care of us all the time. Thanks for providing a teacher who understands Tim’s needs perfectly and for the wonderful “coincidence” of her knowing Dennis. In more ways than one, she is exactly the right teacher.”