Billy’s Story

From time to time since starting this blog, I have thought of sharing the story of Billy. For various reasons I have chosen not to until today.

This morning I breathed a prayer that God would give me something to share with you today. Later, tending to some chores, I walked out to the garage and noticed some boxes up on a high shelf and decided to go through at least one today.

How coincidental?? I came upon the box that had the notes and story about Billy in it. This is my humble attempt to share this incredible story with you.

...............Once upon a time, well, actually in the early nineties I was teaching fourth grade in a public school. This school was in the heart of the projects and was a "tough" school to teach at. I had myriad experiences there that looking back upon are almost beyond comprehension.

However, I loved those kids with a passion and they were some of the sweetest, most gifted children I have ever taught. We had all religions and races at our school. The common denominator was economic impoverishment. 

I will give you a sketchy background. One of the sweetest kids I ever taught was shot and killed along with his mom and her two sisters by the mom's boyfriend a few years after I taught him.

One of my fourth grader's nieces (who was in kindergarten) died of carbon monoxide poisoning on the way to see her father who was in prison at the time. Heartbreaking! She had gone to sleep on the floor of the back seat area and carbon monoxide seeped through the holes in the flooring of the car. I watched as her father walked by her casket in shackles.

Her classroom was right next door to mine. One day she walked by and was crying. She had come in late and went to the cafeteria for breakfast and they told her that they had already quit serving. Have you ever seen a chicken on a junebug? She had some breakfast that day even though it was only a few crackers.

After that I always looked for her coming down the hall. One day she told me that she liked my suht. She couldn't say "sh" and couldn't say "r's" so that is how she told me she liked my shirt. She wormed her way a little deeper into my heart that day.

One day I found a knife in a locker after a large sum of money had been stolen. I never carried cash with me but our son who had just graduated from college was living with us and had paid me some partial rent the night before.

I didn't find the money but I found the knife, seemingly hidden "just so" (safely tucked ever so straight inside a folder) so that it could be used at an opportune time--that was my supposition-- Who knows why the knife was there? But it was in the locker of one of two kids who had been at each other's throats all year.

I will always feel that God saved someone from getting badly hurt that day. I hope I am wrong. I was teaching fifth grade at this particular time and some of these kids were twelve and thirteen years old, with mustaches!

So now that you have a little idea of what this school and its experiences afforded me, I would like to share with you the story of Billy.

Billy had come to me with many reports from teachers of excessive talking and behavioral problems in the classroom. None of which I usually paid any attention to--but at first he was known to cause a few problems for me, none of which were really all that bad--mostly just "little boy" pranks and stuff. He did have a history of being in the principal's office quite often though.

During the year that I had him, the Gideons gave every child in our school a small New Testament and also placed some full Bibles in our library and gave each teacher a Bible. I laid mine on top of my desk and kept it there at the expense of hearing from other teachers, "You are going to get fired." It was odd to me that some of the teachers did not know what the law did and did not say about separation of church and state.

Noticing that there were quite a few of the bigger Bibles left over and just setting in a box in the library, I asked the principal if I could take the rest of the Bibles to my classroom for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read).

This was a thirty minute section of time right after noon recess that gave the children a chance to calm down, cool off and do the best thing for building good readers, READ, on or BELOW their grade level, just for fun and enjoyment--builds a love of reading. Once a child falls in love with reading, they can't be stopped. But that is another soapbox for another day.

After a few weeks of having these Bibles in my room, the children discovered them and I had a group of three or four girls who always read the Bible. After a while, they started calling themselves "The King's Kids." And after a while they asked me if I could post an assigned reading for them out of the Bible each day so that each member of the group could read the same passage.

I told them that I could not assign specific readings but I could suggest a "voluntary reading." So one particular day I wrote "voluntary scripture reading" on the chalkboard and gave them a passage. I am not sure but I think it was from one of the Psalms.

Even at that point in time, I knew I was chancing getting someone riled up about separation of church and state and had to make a decision if I was willing to go to jail or to lose my job for the gospel of Christ.

I try to abide by all of the laws of our land but when the law of our land and the law of God conflict, I choose to obey God.

The girls in the "club" got their Bibles and proceeded to turn to the reading. However, I did not notice at the time that their "club" also included one little "troublemaker" boy.

Now, you don't really know me but I have rules and certain of my rules were absolutely not broken for ANY reason other than throwing up or blood. One of those was this: There will be no talking PERIOD during DEAR. The kids respected this because they loved to read and they did not want to lose this precious time.

But that day, I saw a little arm raised and a hand waving. In Billy's quest to find the Psalms, he had ended up in Revelation. In exasperation, I finally said, "Yes, Billy, what do you want?"

"What is the Lamb's Book of Life?"

"Oh, wow! Now just how do I answer that and keep my job," was going through my mind. I knew that when it came down to the nitty gritty, I would do whatever possible to make this known to the child but I was also aware that I had a young lady from a local Christian university as a student intern who could not get fired.

I said, "Celestial, will you please tell Billy what the Lamb's Book of Life is?" She proceeded to explain this to him.

A few minutes later, arm up, hand waving again.

Not quite as exasperatedly, "Yes, Billy, what do you need?

"How do you get your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life?"

Once again I said, "Celestial, will you tell Billy how you get your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life."

Celestial referred him to Romans 10:9,10. My heart smiled.

After another few minutes, I noticed that Billy was squatted down in a corner of the back room and reaching back in my mind to his history instead of recent happenings, I said with an aggravated tone in my voice, "Billy, what in the world are you doing?"

Let me just say, I am not proud of the "tone" in my voice or even the way I asked it.  In fact, I am ashamed.

He replied, "I'm asking Jesus to come in my heart so I can have my name written in the Lamb's Book of Life."

After a big lump in my throat had dissolved and a few tears wiped away, I'm sure I went on to teach the rest of the day--I have no recollection of the hours between noon and three. But here is what I remember about the remainder of the day after school was out.

A few weeks prior to this day, Billy had asked me to come to the "projects" where he lived to see his garden. One of our thrusts, as a school trying so hard to get greater parental involvement in the school and student's life, was through "home visits," so this was not foreign to me. I kept intending to visit Billy's garden after school but kept putting it off.

However, this day, I decided I better go see Billy's garden and talk to his parents to tell them of what had happened in the classroom that day.

Billy rode the bus so I actually beat him to his apartment. His mother was at work but his father was home.  I proceeded to fill him in on the details of what had transpired. He was fine with it and even acted glad. Whew!!

After a short while, Billy came bounding in, "Did you see my garden yet? Did you see my garden yet?"

I told him no I hadn't but we would go see it now. As we were walking out the door, his father said, "Well, I think I will go with you, I haven't seen it either."

Billy's apartment was on the exterior of a rectangular shaped complex. We walked all the way to the opposite end of his dwelling and through an opening into the interior.

As we walked and looked in the distance, we saw a little old lady working in the inner courtyard. Billy yelled at the top of his lungs, "Hi, Angie." And as we walked toward her, I kept seeing these precious little plots of ground, dug up, turned over and freshly planted. In each little sectioned off plot were cardboard signs that read

Susie's garden, Johnny's garden, Tony's garden, Tameka's garden, and finally Billy's garden. And there scribbled in the handwriting of a precious lamb of God were the names..............

Lettuce, peas, cucumbers, squash, collard greens. 

I heard Billy's father's soft voice behind me say, "I sure will be glad when those collard greens come up."

All of a sudden I knew there was someone in Billy's life who was planting more than garden seeds.

Angie was single, a former missionary to Singapore, had retired, moved back to America and chosen to make her dwelling among the less fortunate, where through serving and ministering she would have a ready platform for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And did she ever have a platform.

After talking to Angie I found that there was a small group of guys around Billy's age living in his apartment complex who had just started meeting every Thursday afternoon for a couple of hours. They had dubbed themselves "The Young Preacher's Society." They would study the Bible with Angie, go home, spend the week studying by themselves and take turns on Thursday afternoons presenting a short sermonette.

I joined Angie in this ministry and we met with these precious young men for a couple of years until they were middle-schoolers and beyond. What an awesome privilege. Angie cooked for them every Thursday afternoon for several years and that is only the tip of the iceberg of her ministry to them.

I don't remember exactly how but the Gideons found out about Billy's story and asked us to speak at one of their meetings. The men were so inspired and touched by Billy's story and the part that "their Bibles" had played in his salvation. One of the men asked, "Could we start an 'Old Preacher's Society?'"

Eighteen years later I have lost track of Billy, I still see Angie when I return to this city.  Angie is the reason I am an artist today. She taught me watercolor and a little batik.

She is an incredible artist especially in the area of batik. She had a one-woman showing of her batik when she lived in Ohio. She is in her upper eighties and has an apartment on the second floor. She is amazing. I love her so.

Recently I was going through some papers and came across the certificate where I was declared a "godparent" to Billy at his baptism into Angie's Episcopal church.

So much has happened in that eighteen years, Billy moving on to middle school, me changing locations of teaching, then retiring, then moving to another state--I am sorry to say that through the years as I changed journals and made new prayer lists, somehow I had forgotten about Billy and my responsibility to him as a "godparent."

So today -- renewed prayer for Billy, even though that is not his real name, God knows who he is, and won't you please whisper a prayer for "Billy" today?

Do you have any "Billys" in your life? People whom you once prayed diligently for but somehow have ended up on the back burner or worse--totally out of mind?

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you--several weeks after Billy's salvation, my principal remarked, "Why haven't I seen Billy in my office lately?"

Yes, to wide-eyed amazement, I told her. And if I could read minds or swear (neither of which I do), I'd swear I heard her say, "Praise You, Sweet Jesus!"

Loving you dear friends,

P.S.   A good portion of July will be dedicated to "reposts from past pages"--I want to put a book together (maybe to give to my children for Christmas--who knows, just yet) and I want to have all of my own personal favorite posts close together so the book will be able to create.

Hopefully, my new readers will enjoy the stories or glean some bit of spiritual inspiration.

To my long time readers, thank you for bearing with me through this.