“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
– Maya Angelou
It happened Monday at the dentist’s office. A grown-up Natalie came out from behind the front desk to hug me. I’d been her Bible class teacher when she was a little girl.
I’m sure back then I thought I was a good one. I prepared my lessons in advance. I had all the cut-outs ready to be glued in class. I greeted each child by name.
If the child had perfect attendance all quarter, I gave her a special certificate. If she correctly recited her memory verse each Sunday, she could put a sticker on our publicly-displayed poster board taped to the class wall. If she knew the right answers about our Bible story, praise was hers for the morning.
Oh, how little I knew.
What 4-year-old should be held responsible for getting their family to church every week? Are they really the ones in charge of memorizing their scriptures at home or boning up on Bible trivia for next week’s lesson?
When I think back to what I rewarded, it’s not with pleasure. I was teaching literal box-checking. I was wrong.
But . . .
There was something else I didn’t know about back then. Back then, grace was only a girl’s name, not a concept I was familiar with. I only knew of hard work and earned grades and reward by merit.
So when Natalie started telling her story on Monday about my class 25 years ago, I was ready for a deserved blow.
Instead, she gave me a priceless gift.
She handed me grace.
She said she loved having me as a teacher because—this is how she remembered it—even when she flubbed up her memory verse, I’d still give her a gold star. That’s what stuck—that I was generous instead of stingy with the shiny, sparkly stickers. And for that, she loved me.
I wanted to cry.
I didn’t remember the story that way, but Grace did. Grace had been with me when I wasn’t even looking.
Doing only what I knew how to do back then, I was not alone. Grace taught beside me. Grace teaches me still.
Grace was there then. He is here now. And he’s plastering a whole packet of gold stars onto my heart.
* * *
I wish I could give you each a gold sticker today, just for being you. Now that I know better, I want to do better. Where have you seen Grace lately?
Watch the 4-minute video of “The Powerful Lesson Maya Angelou Taught Oprah” about doing better when you know better.
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