Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
May 28, 2015
Amy Purdy, age 35, is living her dream. One Super Bowl commercial may help you remember something about her. If you recall, Purdy is driving a fiery, red 2015 Toyota Camry up and down mountainous roads in the winter. Images of her running, snowboarding, modeling and dancing flash in and out. While the photography, music, wintry weather and the voice of Muhammed Ali connect with all five senses, one cannot help but notice Amy’s lower extremities. Amy is performing all her activities with prosthetic legs and feet.
When she was 19, Amy contracted bacterial meningitis. Amy lost blood flow to her legs and vital organs. To save her life, both legs had to be amputated below the knee. Her kidneys and spleen were surgically removed. Loss of both kidneys meant dialysis at least three times a week to clean the blood. Amy lost hearing in one ear. If that were not enough, comas came and went. Purdy’s chance of survival dropped to a measly 2%. By God’s grace, Amy escaped death. God gave her another chance. Two years later, Amy was freed from dialysis. Amy’s Dad gave his daughter one of his kidneys. And her life took off. Added to Amy’s list of accomplishments are titles like gold medalist at the Paralympics, motivational speaker, contestant on Dancing with the Stars and businesswoman. A father’s love, sacrifice and faith inspired his daughter to achieve these dreams. “Dad gave me life twice,” Amy said. Earlier this month, Purdy announced that the love of her life had asked for her hand in marriage. Amy Purdy has experienced a lot of graduations in 35 years.
Like Amy, every CHADDOCK graduate has met and overcome great challenges related to “childhood traumas.” You’ve “snatched victory from the jaws of defeat,” as ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to say. Experience has taught you to understand the mantra Amy’s father shared with his daughter. “Before triumph come trials.” Because you have overcome major problems, having earned credits necessary for graduation, I congratulate you, your parents and CHADDOCK for a job well done. Most of all, I thank Almighty God for allowing us to see what can happen when another chance comes our way.
There is a biblical character who reminds me of the journey of CHADDOCK graduates. His name is Samuel. Samuel becomes one of the most important, influential and heroic figures in the Old Testament. To no small degree, one can attribute much of his success to a CHADDOCK like experience during his adolescent years. In his mother’s life, Samul represents another chance.
During Old Testament times, it was legal for men to have two wives. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children. Hannah had none. Pleased that she had the upper hand, Peninnah ridiculed, put down and made fun of Hannah because she could not have children. Tears, desperation and depression besieged Hannah daily although her husband was madly in love with her. Ultimately, these feelings of inadequacy drove Hannah to her knees in prayer. During one annual pilgrimage to the temple at Shiloh, Hannah begged God for a child. If God gave her a child, Hannah promised to give that child back to God. A year later, Hannah gave birth to Samuel. His Hebrew name meant “God has heard.” Some Bible commentators think Hannah raised her boy for five to eight years. Remembering her promise to God, Hannah bundled up Samuel, presented him to the priest at Shiloh to be raised as God’s servant. This faithful mother returned home to Ramah without her only son and child, burdened at heart by his absence and buoyed by fulfilling her promise to Almighty God.
During Samuel’s pre-teen, teen and a few post teen years, he lived away from home. The temple at Shiloh was his CHADDOCK. It provided room and board. Sam had chores to perform like keeping his room clean and tidying up the temple for worshipers. Eli the high priest, other priests, and temple staff became his teachers, counselors, chaplain and if necessary his playmates. Eli made sure that Samuel was academically, physically and spiritually strong. Always a good student, Samuel had excellent grades and progress reports. That much can be inferred from a comment made about this youngster in 1 Samuel 2:26. “Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.” His relations and relationships were above average. In essence, Samuel was a well-rounded young man.
Apparently, the trauma of separation from his Mom never caused major problems. Samuel never went home. He never ran away. Perhaps, Hannah prepared her young son for separation during the 5-8 years spent weaning him. Maybe, Hannah kept mentioning the promise she made with God that brought him into her life. If she did, Hannah risked Samuel rebelling against her choosing his future path minus his input. Nevertheless, Samuel’s Mom saw him once a year. Every time Hannah made the annual pilgrimage, she brought her son a new robe sewn in love. He looked forward to getting a new robe as if it were a Christmas present. Undoubtedly, Samuel loved his Mom along with hugs, kissing and conversation that came to him once a year. Plus, his Mom brought news that God had blessed her with other children, three more boys and two girls. Seeing and playing with his siblings was not an option.
If any of the CHADDOCK graduates shared my graduation quandary, I had no clear idea of what I wanted to be. My grandmother already knew what she wanted me to be, a preacher. To me, it wasn’t a good idea. I saw my future doing anything but preaching. It was not so with Samuel. From birth, Hannah informed Samuel she had promised him to the Lord - that his life would be given to God as payment for giving her a child. When Samuel heard God calling him in the night to a life of leadership and service over Israel, he didn’t reject ministry like I did. He accepted the call readily. “Speak Lord,” he said, “thy servant heareth.” From that day to the day of his death, Samuel served God as a faithful prophet. When Brother Samuel left the temple or graduated, he left knowing where he was headed. He knew what God expected. What about you? Where are you headed? Has a high school diploma or GED given you a better sense of direction? Has it made you dream of making the world a better place?
Two internet resources offer some answers. Take High Schools.com, for instance. They list five benefits of high school graduation. 1. Salaries - high school graduates tend to make more money. 2. Significance - high school graduates benefit taxpayers and contribute to state economies. 3. Potential - high school graduates are a good return on societal investments. 4. Misconceptions - high school diplomas get better acceptance from college and some businesses than the GED. Caution: the person makes the degree not the other way around. 5. Considerations - high school graduates tend to face a better future than drop outs. Oft times drop outs may get in trouble with the law or end up on welfare. There is more than one way to accomplish goals. From these so-called benefits of graduation, another conclusion can be drawn. High school graduates are needed because the cities, state and the Uncle Sam want your money!!
If we pay attention to the Social Studies Help Center, they cite four major benefits of a high school education. 1. Better Job Opportunities. A lot of people with a job are looking for a better job. A better job makes them happier. 2. Graduation can bring feelings of pride. Today, many of you will hear from teachers, parents, President and CEO Debbie Reed and the Bishop, “I am proud of you.” 3. Allows one to attend college. To be accepted at most colleges and universities, a high school education is required. A diploma signifies that you are ready for another chance to grow and mature. 4. Higher wages. Making a lot of money can be a good thing. But if one can’t manage it, how much one earns may go for naught. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had this to say about money. “Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” Attending the graduation services at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois recently, the President reminded graduates that as the newest Alma Mater of the University, they had a chance to give back to the school one day.
A sterling education is not always measured in the size of the student body, prestige or reputation of the school, modern facilities or a high GPA. In the fabric of all those qualities may be an unspoken mantra offering “chance squared,” i.e., a continuous, qualitative environment of growth and maturation. In my quick review of videos on the CHADDOCK website, the journey toward success kept appearing. Parents David and Julie shared positive comments about their son Charlie and family transformation. Julie mentioned one of Charlie’s teachers. And she quipped, “This was the right school for our family.” To be specific, the whole family was involved in Charlie’s education. Julie’s husband David re-iterated the same theme in his testimony. Good things happened to Charlie for which David gave thanks. Then he opined, “CHADDOCK rebuilt our family. It feels like our family got a second chance.”
Mother Minnie rejoiced over the progress of her two children in the SPARCS program. First, “they’ve learned how to study.” Second, “their grades went up.” Third, “they are more positive of what their goals are going to be. I’m just proud of them,” she said, with a smile that took over her face.
Two students touched my heart with their testimony. Lindsey and Daniel made plain the connection between their personal achievements and their positive relationships with faculty and staff. According to Lindsey, multiple chances were granted her. Now CHADDOCK has rooted itself in her life. Because his life has been transformed in so many positive ways, Daniel acknowledged that “they, meaning CHADDOCK, never gave up on him.”
The testimony of Lindsey and Daniel reminded me of one high school experience. Over 50 years ago, the words of Miss Davis have rung in my ears since she spoke them in the classroom. Occasionally, a few of us boys would become too playful in class. When Miss Davis had enough, she’d offer this mantra. We heard a thousand times. “Alright now, alright now, you better settle down. I got mine. You got to get yours.” We’d settle down and class would continue. Years after my high school graduation, I’ve thought about and reflected on that mantra. First of all, Miss Davis indicated that she had sat where we sat. She studied and got her high school diploma. She went further and earned her college degree. “I got mine,” acknowledged hard work and accomplishment. If memory serves me well, we learned later that Miss Davis had graduated from college with high honors. Some said she graduated Magna or Summa Cum Laude. Second, Miss Davis refused to throw in the towel on any child in her class, boy or girl. If we took “I got mine”; as a rebuke or bragging, Miss Davis cleared that up. Along with “I got mine”; we heard her unrelenting expectation “you got to get yours.” Every child within the sound of her voice had the obligation not to just graduate from high school but to go on to college and graduate. Miss David bent her efforts to that goal. Not everybody attended college. But I’ve thanked God many times and Miss Davis for setting high expectations. Think about it. “I got mine. You got to get yours.”
In closing, I want to share excerpts of a prayer I delivered during the Graduation Ceremony at McKendree University, May 9, 2015 in Lebanon, Illinois. My prayer was based on the value Jesus’ parents placed on education. When Jesus was twelve years old, Luke’s gospel offered this praiseworthy testimony about the son of Mary and Joseph. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and humankind.”
“So I offer this charge to the 2015 graduates of CHADDOCK. Forge ahead. Make this world a better place. Face trouble and violence with faith, good will, love for God and neighbor. Take care of yourself. Make good choices. Forgive others as you would like to be forgiven. Remember from whence you’ve come. Don’t ever, ever forget God. Do these things and another chance will be forever yours. As cap, gown and tassel signify your graduation this day, so may the rest of your life, light the path for all God’s children” in the name of Jesus. Amen.