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  • Writer's pictureKristie Sharp Williams

Once a Trojan

In the late summer of 1974, my mom left work early to register me for Mrs. Brock's half-day kindergarten at Athens Bible School, home of the Trojans. Mrs. Castleberry would have greeted her in the front office while Principal Buchanan sat in a nearby office or walked the single hallway of classrooms. I don't actually remember or know anything about that day, but I do think about that event often. I think about what it was probably like for my worrier mom to walk into that office for the first time, a stranger. I think about her worry as a doting mom that her shy, backward, stubborn kid would just emotionally implode on the first day. I think about her worry as a frugal-minded wife budgeting a tight household to pay for tuition. I think about her worry as a business owner juggling working hours with parent participation and school hours. But the only thing I remember her ever saying about their decision to send us to ABS was, "We never worried that you girls weren't being taken care of up there." An uncharacteristic and confident peace the young mother must have had on that day then as she wrote: "Kristie Denise Sharp, age 5" on the form.

Without a crystal ball, she could not have fathomed the significance of that day beyond that she signed her first kid up for kindergarten.

Except for her peace of mind, she could not have consciously felt the providential hand that guided her. When Eli was diagnosed with brain cancer, Mom was in the early stages of dementia and could never provide any kind of traditional support to us, like keeping the kids or helping Vic with household chores while I was gone. My dad passed away in 1998, so he had been gone over a decade by the time Eli was sick. He never even knew any of his grandkids. So, I think often about the day my mom first signed me up for school because it was then that my parents began to provide the support that they could not almost 40 years later. Although they didn't know it, couldn't know it, my parents' sacrifices and efforts back then would make possible relationships that my family and I would depend on later to fight the evil that is childhood cancer. Little or big, all the efforts made to bear our burden during that time saved us in so many ways as a family unit and each of us individually — even down to the youngest of us, who was only three years old when the sky fell.

Last week, the library at Athens Bible School was named after Eli. It is a gesture so profoundly touching and perfect that my mind can't wrap around it; I can't conjure an equally appropriate response. It is beyond anything my heart can comprehend, and we are so grateful and thankful. After a child dies, a big fear, often, for parents is that the child be forgotten, so — once again, just like during Eli's treatment — we are blessed beyond measure to have people in our lives, through our relationships, old and new, at the school that lift a burden. We are grateful for their servant's hearts and the examples they set for our kids and us. As Vic said in his little thank-you speech, we witnessed and experienced true servanthood, and we are more charitable, more patient, more understanding for it.

Eli loved the school; he loved his class. Even though he only attended up to third grade (even then missing a couple of semesters), he always felt he was just temporarily absent. Even when we had to homeschool him because of treatment, or when he was enrolled in the school at the St. Jude campus during treatment, he never thought of himself as anything but an ABS Trojan. The kids at the school, of all grades, were kind to speak to him when they saw him, included him in their prayers, sent cards, and drew him pictures — not to mention the various fundraisers the kids hosted and participated in over the years. I think this library dedication serves as a healthy sign of closure for the students that knew and loved him; also for Eli's siblings. It is their world. To have Eli's plaque in the hallway, I'm sure, provides them some comfort that he is recognized and remembered as being a part of it. And, as I mentioned to those gathered for the dedication, the library is so perfect because kids of any age or interest use it and benefit from it. (cont.)

(Something neat about the gathering here — in addition to the reason they are gathered — is that it includes friends I've had since I was a student at ABS; it includes college friends; it includes new friends who are parents of kids in my kids' class; it includes kids in my kids' classes; it includes classmates of Eli; it includes family, and it even includes neighbors. All of whom were part of that web of support.) (If the video doesn't work, try this link.)

Eli (and all my kids) loved the library (Mrs. Harwell and Mr. Williams can attest to that). He enjoyed reading about animals and vehicles, and he liked to read joke books. He could not always participate on the playground or never really could participate in sports on a ballfield, but there was always something for him at the library. And, any hospital he was in, there was a children's library for him, too. So, the library was kind of a happy place for him. I am so proud for Eli to be honored in this way, at a place he loved and claimed as his own; a place outside the cancer world that consumed his identity otherwise. I am thankful that so many people loved him and were touched by him during his short lifetime.

Mom was always proud that she and daddy were able to send us to ABS; she mentioned it many times over the years. It wasn't always financially easy for them, and it wasn't always guaranteed year to year that they could afford it. And she would never try to convince anyone that the school or everyone associated with it was perfect (because nowhere is), but still, she felt the worry-free peace that God placed on her heart that we were being "taken care of up there." And, we still are.

Below is Eli reading about one of his favorite guys, Henry Ford, to Caleb. (If the video doesn't work, try this link.)

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