My college semester has ended and I cannot be more overjoyed about this. This was the first semester that I've had to be at the campus so much. Before I've almost exclusively taken online courses. This semester I had three classes to take in person, which had me there 3 days a week, some evenings and some during the day. My helpful husband works at home some of the time, so the days I needed to go to class he would stay home with the boys.
Here's the thing about online courses, you don't meet anyone. On-campus the opposite was true. All three of my classes were connected to my major. All most all of the same people were in every class with me. I developed friendships with some of these amazing people. Other people I just observed. And I was reminded how everyone has a story.
Alice is a pretty young lady in her 20's. She's also a paraplegic. I noticed her right away for two reasons: first is that she always had a huge smile on her face and secondly because she was in a wheelchair. Without fail every Monday night she would be in class. Then I saw her one night in the parking lot. Near our class building was the handicapped parking. I witnessed Alice's Mom getting out the wheelchair from the back of their very old van, bringing it to the front passenger side door, then her Mom lifting Alice into her arms (and struggling some), then placing Alice in the wheelchair. Mom would then fix Alice's hair, give her her backpack, and off Alice went in her motorized wheelchair to class. Here's the thing, I saw Alice's mom every time we had class. I didn't always see them arriving. Some nights I'd see her Mom sitting in the van on my way in to class, other times I'd see her on my way out. Without fail, Alice's mother was there bringing her to class. And never did I see Alice unhappy or unsmiling. She seemed to be one of the happiest people in class.
Sharon is a single mother of four children. She works full time at the college, while also taking a full load of classes. She is on the road to finishing her social work degree and will graduate soon. Sharon is another person who was always cheerful, kind, happy, and smiling. She also liked to talk and over the semester told me a lot about her life. Her husband divorced her and she receives no help at all from him. She lives in Beaumont and has no family around to help her. She loves the Lord and her church is a big support to her. Sharon's job pays her minimum wage. She often was behind in her school work and was always playing catch up. Sharon had a lot going on. I couldn't imagine being a single mom of four kids, with no help, and working and attending school full time. Sharon would send me a few texts a week of encouraging words or scriptures. One day I was struggling with something, that she had no idea of and she texted me this: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14. Sharon and I helped each other out with study guides and things that we could work together on. I have several texts of thanks from her saying how much I helped her this semester, but she helped me so much more.
Connie scared me when I first laid eyes on her. Honestly. It was the first night of my Tuesday evening class, I arrived and the only open seat was next to Connie. Connie is a very big woman and was wearing her work uniform. She is a guard at the local prison. The look on her face went right along with the uniform. She looked tough and like someone you would not want to mess with. Well right off the bat, we were assigned a group project and so Connie and I and one other lady were grouped together. We met several times and I began to really get to know Connie. At one of our meetings, she shared with us how she has a passion for social work and she can't wait to earn her degree. She mentioned how her whole life she has wanted a job where she can help people. She went on to say that she wants to one day work with elderly, the poor, children, handicapped, families, women. Then she said, "I just want to work with all groups of people to help them." As she was talking, tears came to her eyes. Over the semester, I learned that Connie was one of the most caring and soft-hearted people I have ever met. Towards the end of the semester around Thanksgiving she missed almost two weeks of class. I finally saw her and she said she had been in the hospital, really sick with pneumonia. I filled her in on all the assignments and upcoming tests and gave her copies of notes and study guides. (Why do professors give us so much to do at the end of the semester?!?) Connie was able to catch up and get everything completed. The last day of class she gave me a big hug and said she wanted to take me out to eat for helping her so much. Just like Sharon, Connie helped me and taught me some things. I'm ashamed to admit, but I judged Connie by her looks, right away. I know not to do that, yet I still do. Connie's heart and personality were so opposite of her "tough lady" look she portrayed.
Every time I noticed Alice's mom in their van, I thought, this is love. Every time I saw Alice's smiling face, I thought, this is pure joy. Every time I talked with Sharon, I thought, this is persevering and believing for better days. Every time I spoke with Connie, I thought this is true love for your fellow man.
I learned just as much from my fellow students as from my professors. Here's to the hope that I will truly love people and have compassion for them, that I will smile and have joy even in adversity, and that I will never again judge people by their outward appearance.