When I was promoting from seventh grade to eighth grade, I told my parents that I wanted to change from the small private Christian school I was attending to the city school. My life’s love was sports, and specifically softball, but my school did not have a team. My plan to change at this time was strategic. I would sit out my eighth grade year because of the school rules and be ready to play my ninth grade year and have the whole of my high school to play. The timing was critical because I wanted to make friends at the middle school (at the time) while I was in the oldest class then move to the high school with the new friends as a freshman. As I began to share the news of the change with my old friends, many of whom I had known since kindergarten, the back of my heart began to feel the pain of leaving them and the place I had happily spent the last eight years. I loved my school, and loved it more than just a school, but as a home. Not really able to process that as a 13-year-old, I looked for any reason to renege on my boast of better things at a bigger school. The P.E. teacher, hearing the intentions of one of her “star” students, came to me and said she was going to coach the first girls’ athletic team and she had hoped that I would try out. It was volleyball. Well, I didn’t really know how to play volleyball, but I was no less cocky then than I am now, and had full confidence that if someone else could do it, I could do it. So, that was the out I needed to change my mind and save my face. So, I stayed to try out, and never tried to leave again. I spent all 13 years of my grade school years there and even continued for the next two at what I call the “spin-off” Christian junior college where seven or eight of our 23 students went, and I would guess a high percentage of the senior class still goes. Ironically, I did not make the team that first year, but God was in control and knew the needs of my journey. My mother has said many times how thankful she was each year when they had the money to send my sister and me to school there. My dad owned his own business which was somewhat seasonal, so money was kind of hit or miss (although we never knew that). She said he would always tell her to sign us up and when it came time to start if they had the money we would go, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t. Somehow, she said, when it came time each year, they always had it. Fifteen years went by of God providing a way. With the immaturity of a spoiled naive child I said many times that I would never send my kids to the school. But when the crayon hit the paper and it came time to walk my first five-year-old into a room and hand her to another person that would be with her, influencing her, teaching her, caring for her most of her day, there was absolutely nowhere else I was going to be. And, the reason is simple - I wanted my kids with family. Maybe I don’t know what other schools are like, so this could be true other places, but where else would the lunchroom lady prepare Abbey a ham sandwich because she didn’t like what was served and she had to buy her lunch? Where else would the librarian know Hannah Grace likes to read about wolves and hold books out for her? Where else can I call a teacher that is not my child’s and her drive my kids home for me? Where else can I call an office lady and tell her that I forgot to give Hannah Grace cash for a field trip and she take her $10? Where else would teachers and staff that don’t have my kids in class or any contact with them know their names? I could fill pages and pages with examples of efforts made by teachers, staff, parents and other kids. Is it just because they know our household has been turned upside down with emotional devastation and they feel sorry for us. Well, maybe Flossie and the ham sandwich one, but, no, they did or would do all those things before the sky fell. They did and do those things because we are family. My prayers are long these days, but always included is my thankfulness to God for directing that decision we made six short years ago. Our relationships through the school are precious, whether they be my old ones, new ones or even unknown ones - with Eli’s situation, there are people and kids I don’t even know personally that lift Eli up in prayer for healing and it’s because of the common bond of the school that they feel a close relationship to him. And, I would be the first to tell you that it is not perfect, but what family is. I’m including a picture of Eli at his kindergarten graduation a year ago. I’ve only written about our school family tonight and how dear it is because I have had so many tell me that Eli has been mentioned often in prayers at the school (yes, we pray at our school, many times a day.) these last days of the year and, as an involved parent and friend of the school, I miss being there. But, understand that we know how richly God has blessed us through our relationships within the community, through our associations and activities, and through His family which knows no bounds. The latest plan for Eli is to go in-patient Thursday night to begin chemo Friday morning.