The First Wonder
I am sure I had experienced it before. I just don’t remember. But the wonder moment on this day, I do remember well. I was in the second grade. We had moved in mid-year from Orlando to a little community called Milford, Kansas. My father had joined the Army as a Chaplin — and stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
It was a significant change. Leaving chilly Florida in November and arriving in freezing Kansas was quite the shock. After all, Florida alligators are cool and lizards in the house a pretty normal Florida life occurrence. But, seeing Buffalo on the way to the store? And look at that snow! Piled higher than my head. The icicles were like bomb pops. By Christmas, we were able to move from on post housing to a home that my mom and dad actually owned. Before that, it was from parsonage to parsonage. That home, Route 1 Box 86, on Old Milford Road was an idyllic place for a young boy in 1980. Behind our large yard was a field of smalls hills and ravines. And coyotes. Yes, real coyotes. Hearing them howl at night was eerily beautiful. It was very different from Orlando. I learned to love Kansas.
And, I loved my little school, Milford Elementary. Situated in the small village of Milford, just outside Junction City and Fort Riley, Milford Elementary was a small-town school in the truest and best sense. It still is. In small-town elementary schools, the classes are small, the kids all know each other, and the teachers know everything.
I vividly remember that the lunchroom ladies made us finish the food on our lunch trays. Honestly, that’s why I won’t eat green peas to this day. Horrible little things. But I digress.
Anyhow, the older custodian at the school was quite a delightful, kind man. Dressed in a clean custodial uniform, he was a gentle, grandfatherly soul.
I distinctly remember sitting at the table — no doubt trying to figure out how to get out of eating something I didn’t want — and Mr. Ron Shady coming over to talk to us. He’d either stand or contort himself onto the bench beside one of us green pea haters. The lunchroom tables were the kind that came out of the wall, with the benches already attached to them. Probably wasn’t a comfy seat for a man of his age, but he didn’t seem to mind.
One day Mr. Ron came up and put a stack of nickels, maybe four or five on the table. He took a little brass cap — about the size of a plastic water bottle cap — and placed it over the nickels. I don’t remember what, if anything, he said. But when he lifted up the little lid — and I remember this part like it was yesterday — the nickles were gone! And in their place? A small stack of dimes. Real dimes! About four or five, their rough little edges all stacked up together.
The tension in my seven-year-old, freckled face melted in the moment. My eyes grew wide, astounded by what just happened. There were gasps and oohs and “Whats?” and in some, pure captivated silence.
Then and there among the peanut butter and jelly crumbs and crumbled milk cartons — it was the first time I can remember being utterly astonished by something. It was my first time experiencing the magic of wonder.
That is the only trick I remember Mr. Ron doing — although I imagine there were others. A guy like that almost always has more than one trick up his sleeve.
The school next year Mr. Ron passed away unexpectedly. As a small town, tightknit school family, we all went out front and planted a tree in his memory. Today, that box elder maple tree stands tall, not nearly as vast as the impact Mr. Ron had on generations of kids like me.
About five years ago I had the opportunity to return to that little school and present my show — in that same cafeteria — to the kids, teachers, and families of Milford Elementary. What an honor it was to go back and share wonder where it first began for me.
Do you think Mr. Shady knew when he showed a group of second grade boys his little coin trick, that it would change a life forever? Is there any way he could’ve known that one of those boys would overcome many facial and vocal challenges to stand on stage and share wonder with people from all over the world?
I doubt it. But Mr. Ron entertained us — opened our eyes to the mystery of what, on the surface, seemed a fool’s trick — because he cared for us. I’m sure he loved our seven and eight-year-old reactions, of amazement and delight. Decades down the road, I’m sure this small-town school janitor in Milford, Kansas, had some concept of the captivating power of wonder. The magical, mysterious moments were likely the highlight of his day, maybe even the reason he got out of bed in the morning — to share the joy of astonishment with elementary school kids.
Which begs the question: If Mr. Ron understood the power of Wonder on children, imagine how much more God understands us? Whatever is happening in the lunchroom or in the classroom of our lives — even in our doubt, shame and sorrow — He is there. In our laughter, He is there. In our love, He is there. We need only have eyes to see the ways He appears and reappears in our lives. And, perhaps best of all, we can love because He first loved us.
1 John 4:7-12
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Sharing His Wonder,
*New International Version (NIV)
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