January 10, 2014, is a day that will forever be cherished in my heart and burned into my mind. It was on this day that we had to tell the children at Bonne Ecole that Georgia Mannino, our remarkable music teacher, had passed away. Just days before, many of them had written her cards and poured out their hearts to her. On this day, even more of them would pour out their hearts and their tears. It was decided that a school wide announcement would be made via the televisions to tell the children. After the announcement was made, the students were given the opportunity to go and see the counselor at our school. All of the third grade classes were on a field trip, so I was able to remain in the counselor’s office with her to talk to the kids. What we witnessed and listened to that day brought tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts.
As the students began to file into the counselor, Stacey’s, office, an open dialogue was started with them. Stacey asked them what they learned from Mrs.Mannino. One 5th grader said, “She taught us to never give up. We watched her continue to come to school and practice with us even though she had cancer. She taught us to be strong.” I was amazed that the first response was not about music or singing, but it was about a life skill of perseverance and courage in the midst of hardship. Children continued to share of Georgia’s bravery and courage as she battled cancer. We witnessed kids hugging one another and encouraging each other. It was beautiful. Georgia’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of these students. One little girl called Georgia her “Music Mom” because she felt that close to her. The students also cried out for forgiveness for the way they treated her, and we were able to share with them that they were forgiven. It was a powerful moment and one you never expect to experience at school.
During this time, my students were reading a novel called Esperanza Rising. The literal meaning of that title is “Hope Rising.” What perfect timing for these students to find hope in the middle of heartache. One of the assignments they had was to write about hope and how they saw it demonstrated around them. One of my students wrote the following about Georgia: “Mrs.Mannino was an amazing mother, wife, music teacher, and friend to everyone around her. She will always have a permanent spot in our hearts. She was a brave warrior, but in all cases, all warriors must rest in peace.” She closed her essay with these words: “Faith: have it, hold it, live it. Memories: know them, have them, hold them. Hope for the best. Love.” This young lady has learned lessons way beyond her years…WOW!
On March 20, 2014, Bonne Ecole’s Student Council and SHINE Club sponsored a mini Relay for Life at our school called “Fishing for a Cure.” The morning began with a Survivor’s Breakfast, and then the whole school circled the walking trail for a Survivor’s Lap. Surrounding the track were flags that were made by the students in honor of those we had lost and those who are still fighting cancer. As the survivors began to walk, a roar arose around the track as the students yelled and cheered them on. It was one of those moments you want to freeze in time. One of those walking was our former talented art teacher, Nolan LeFort. He did not think he would be able to walk the whole time, but he said the students cheers kept him going. My father walked the lap too as he is still struggling with the effects of cancer treatments. He had such a smile of joy when he finished the lap. Another precious walker was Mary Jolicoeur. As she walked, students yelled her name because of the stories they have heard of her courage. These students were given a memory they will never forget and the opportunity to bring hope to others. Also that morning, a beautiful sign was dedicated naming our music room, the Mannino Music Room.”
The past few months have had moments of sadness and moments of joy. The most recent for me was watching my daughter, Kaley, singing at the Teen SHE event. She sang the song, “Oceans,” and my mind immediately went to Georgia. She is the one who believed in Kaley and instilled a love for singing in her heart. The last night I saw Georgia, I thanked her for giving this gift to Kaley. Now, Kaley is able to share the gift of music with others, and Georgia’s legacy lives on. This song truly describes her journey and our journey as we continue to trust Father and hold His hand to guide and lead us through this journey.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand, Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Georgia … my friend, sister in Christ, fellow BEE superstar, inspiration, leader, mother, wife, sister, aunt, Child of God, Who Dat fan, musician, survivor, champion …
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how our lives impact those in our inner circle and then how that influence spreads into our outer circle. I had the unique experience recently of seeing the power of that in the life of my friend, Georgia Mannino. Georgia and I worked together at Bonne Ecole Elementary for the last 14 years. Yet, it was over the last 3-4 years that we really got to know one another better through a teacher prayer group at school. It was during this time that Georgia shared her heart with me and the others in this group. Being given the opportunity to prayer for another person is a wonderful gift, yet Georgia gave the gift right back to me through her prayers for me. Over these past few years, I prayed for her children, her family, and her battle with cancer. Boy oh boy did she fight! I remember listening to her with amazement as she shared so much about herself from a medical standpoint. She knew more than the doctors knew … I truly believe that. She took amazing care of herself, and I sent numerous people to talk to her about how nutrition can impact your health.
I remember one day, a year ago, when she came in my classroom and just cried in my arms, telling me how tired she was of fighting. All I could do was hold her and think about how tired I was of her fighting as well. Georgia was always there for me while our family prayed for Henry’s healing. She told others to pray wherever she went. I will never forget the day I emailed all Kaley’s teachers at Slidell Junior High to let them know about Henry’s passing. One of the first emails I received back was from one of her teachers who had been praying faithfully because of Georgia sharing the request with her. She also took up the battle cry for my beautiful friend, Mary, as she battled with breast cancer. Her strength always encouraged me, but I knew WHO her source of strength was. Thinking of her reminds me of these verses from Isaiah:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
She did get tired, but then a new strength would rise up in her that was directly from Christ.
Right after Christmas, I went by her house and she told me about her problems with breathing and feeling anxious. I began praying for peace for her at that moment and continued on with that prayer. A few days later, she sent me a text to let me know she was at the emergency room getting checked out. I was thankful that she was receiving medical attention to see what was going on inside her body. My beautiful friend, Claire, went with me to go visit Georgia in the hospital on New Year’s Eve. While we were there, we had the privilege of holding hands with her and praying. Yet, what struck me more than anything was what happened the moment Claire stopped praying. At that point, Georgia began to pray for us. It blew me away that even though her needs were great, she took the time to speak to Father about us. Just as she had done so many times, she put her own needs to the side to pray for someone else. What a blessing to go into the New Year with my beautiful friend’s prayers saturating my spirit!
When Georgia was sent back home, I went by again with my friend, April. When we got there she was about to do a breathing treatment and wanted to postpone it, but we insisted she continue on with it. As soon as she was done, I went and sat right next to her and just listened to her as she shared different stories. One story she began to tell was about coming to see Kaley and I dance together at church. God knew I needed to hear her tell this story, since I had no idea how much it had meant to her. I could have sat there all night and listened to her tell stories and joke around with everyone else.
The following week, we had a SHINE meeting and all the students made cards for her. I left the cards at school thinking I would bring them by the next day after school. As I was driving home, Claire called and said you need to take the cards tonight. I braced myself and drove over there. I did not know if the family would want me to visit with her or not, but as soon as I arrived, her sister, Genie, sent me straight to the back with the cards. I again got to sit down on the bed with her and visit. I got to read every card to her and share with her the beautiful sentiments of the students. Some of them offered apologies and asked for forgiveness for their behavior. She just smiled and told me that music was her heart. She shared that gift with my daughter, Kaley, and I got to tell her how much that meant to me. Being able to sit face to face with someone and share how much she means to you is a powerful gift. That was the last time I would get to visit with her, but it is a treasure that I will always have.
At her funeral, I saw countless people from so many different places that she had impacted. I was in awe as I sat back and realized how many lives she touched. Some people who did not attend the funeral thought it was strange when I talked about how I smiled through the whole funeral. It was all about honoring her with music, and it was a concert that she would have LOVED. Her family found a way to honor her and encourage others through their actions. I believe I know who they learned that from … her. As we had a jazz processional out to the gravesite, I thanked God for this friend who blessed my life. As I looked around, I saw all the others she had impacted as well, including her children. If you are reading this, please pray for Jon, Anna, and Wesley. To lose both of your parents at such young age is so hard, yet when you look at them you see a strength that could only have come from God and was modeled by the parents He blessed them with in this life. I pray that all of us can go about our lives and let Christ shine through us to touch and minister to those around us.
Thank you, Georgia, for sharing that Light and Love with me. I am forever grateful.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Ok, I admit it, I am an Olympics fanatic! But not in the way you may think. Every time I watch the Olympics, I am inspired and encouraged by the stories of the Olympians. This time I was struck by the stories of Emily Scott, a short-track skater; Noelle Pikus-Pace, a skeleton slider; and Jeremy Abbott, an America figure skater. Listening to their stories, watching their successes, and witnessing their setbacks touched my heart.
During an interview, Emily said, “Everyone has a story,” as a way to draw attention away from her story. She came to the Olympics through the monetary donations of others. She grew up in a single parent home with her father as her soul caretaker. She started her athletic career as an inline skater, but switched to short track in 2008 so that she could hopefully participate in the Olympics one day. As I watched her skate and finish first in her preliminary heat, she was cool and calm and showed experience beyond her years. Yet later, when she was in her semi-final race, she was taken down by a Korean skater forcing her to finish in 5th place after getting back up. As I stand back and look at her story, two points stick out to me. She grew up with the cards stacked against her, but she did not let her mother being in jail or the fact that she had to receive food stamps at one time, label her and define who she is. Also, when she fell down, she got back up and completed the race. WOW!!! Can you see the spiritual parallels? How often do we let our past define who we are and color our entire lives? We do not let who He says we are permeate our souls. Instead, we allow the past to creep back in and rob the joy of being one of God’s kids. Yes, we all make mistakes; we all seek to find our significance and purpose in other things and other people besides God, but it is recognizing that and getting back up and focused that makes the difference. The Bible says we will face difficulties and trials. My prayer is that we will see the freedom and peace He longs to give us on the other side, and even in the midst of the trials.
Jeremy Abbott has always struggled with nerves, and it showed right away at the Olympics. During the team competition, he did not skate as well causing his other teammates to work even harder. Then came his time in the men’s individual skating event, and all eyes were on him. Shortly after beginning, he hesitated to start his quad jump in time causing him to fall hard on his hip. Dazed and confused, he lay on the ice with a look of resignation in his eyes. Then to the surprise and amazement of all, he arose and completed his program. I was cheering him on every step of the way just as the crowd in the ice rink applauded and cheered throughout his program. When he received his score, it was even higher than what he had scored the first time he skated for the team competition. Yes, his story is similar to that of Emily’s but with a different twist to it. In his initial performance, he was competing with his team. Never did I see them berate him or say, “Thanks for nothing, bud.” When they went on to win the bronze, no one said, “You don’t get one because you did not perform well enough.” Regardless of his performance, he was still part of that team, and he deserved to share in the benefits. Ok, I am so excited as I look again at the spiritual applications! We are God’s kids, so it is like we are on His team. Even when we mess up and live in a way that is contrary to who we are, we still have all the benefits of being God’s kids. We can deny it and say, “Oh, I am not worthy.” That would be like Jeremy refusing to receive his medal because he had one bad skating day. My friends, that is where grace and forgiveness come in.
As I watched a feature story on Noelle and her return to the sport of Skeleton, I was mesmerized. In the 2010 Olympics, Noelle finished in 4th place, just short of the podium. Up to this point she spent much of her life on the road, away from her family, traveling on the Skeleton World Cup Team. After the Vancouver Olympics, she retired from Skeleton, believing she was done. She had her second child and enjoyed her life as a mom. Then tragedy struck. She found herself filled with such joy at being pregnant again, but then she had a miscarriage. This propelled her forward to re-enter the world of Skeleton, but with a totally different focus and motivation. Her husband told her that she should try Skeleton one more time. They both decided that if she were to continue that the sport would not steal her family time from her. Her husband and two kids travel everywhere with her, and she takes her kids with her when she works out at the track or into their weight room at home when she works out. She came in as a favorite to do well at this Olympics, and she ended up earning a silver medal in Skeleton. I believe that even if she had not, she would have been filled with the same amount of joy because at the end of the day, she still had her amazing family. After winning she scaled a wall to get to her husband and embrace him. It was a beautiful moment. Noelle had a moment that woke her up at the 2010 Olympics; she had an aha! moment about who and what was the most important thing in her life. Her heart no longer pursued the prize as much as enjoying the journey of life with those she loved. That is how I want to live. I want to stop when the world begins to get to busy around me and takes me away from those I love and away from His real purpose for me.
My prayer for all of you is that you will know you are deeply loved and cherished by Father. Also, that even in the mess-ups and the hard parts, He does not leave or turn His back. He wants to shower you with His love. I also hope and pray the "busyness" of this world does not take you captive and away from your first love, Christ.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Greetings to all my precious friends! My name is Suzanne, but I am also called Mrs. Pichon by many children on a daily basis. It is always a delight to hear my first name after a long day at school. I was born in the Sunshine State, Florida, and attended the amazing Florida State University where I earned a degree in Elementary Education. After graduating from Florida State, I went on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at Louisiana State University for three years. It was while working there that I met my wonderful husband, Kalon Pichon. Some of you may know him as the keyboard player in the band at Northshore Church who always seems to be talking into a microphone. Sorry … you only get the special privilege of hearing him if you are in the band.
After getting married in 1996, we moved to Slidell, and I actually began using my degree in Elementary Education. I began my calling as a teacher at Bonne Ecole Elementary in 1997. I have mostly taught in the gifted program during my time at BEE. I have taught every grade and every subject at some point or another. In the year 2000, my life was forever changed with the birth of my beautiful daughter, Kaley Grace. She has been such a huge blessing in my life. Watching her grow into a beautiful young woman has been amazing. In the year 2007, we had another amazing addition to our lives, Camden Jacob. I love watching him and Kaley read together, wrestle together, and just love on one another.
I became a part of Total Woman U in January of 2010. I am a part of the Advisory Board, co-head of the SHINE Club, as well as one of the teachers at many of the TWU events. My heart in being a part of Total Woman U is to see women set free to be the women Christ intends for them to be. I want them to become all He wants for them to be as they allow Him to live His life in and through them. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The word workmanship translates to “Poiema” in the Greek which means that we are God’s poem. Wow! What an amazing thought that we are His poem, and He just wants us to walk each day as His living and breathing poem!
As a teacher, my goal is to communicate truth in any way I can. If you have ever been to a Bible Study I have led, a session I have taught, to a SHINE meeting, or in my classroom, you have probably seen a movie clip. I am such a visual learner that I tend to use that as a way to communicate truth. Stories mean so much to me because I feel as though Father speaks to me through stories. In high school, my English teacher taught us about cathartic moments in literature, where the reader actually experiences the emotions of the character without going through the experience which allows us to work through an issue in our lives. Hearing the stories of others and where Father has brought them is so powerful to me. It lets me know that I am not alone on this journey called life and encourages me to keep walking.
Last January, the SHINE Club began at Bonne Ecole Elementary. I have to say by far this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Getting the opportunity to teach kids about serving, honoring, inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging has been a joy. Since January, we have been talking about hope. I love that we are able to take what seem like such abstract concepts and make them real and tangible for the students.
Dancing has always been a huge part of my life, and I never ever thought that Father would allow me to still have the opportunity to dance. Being able to dance with my daughter three times at church has been such an amazing experience. I am thankful that I have been able to share Father’s heart through such a beautiful art form. Music also speaks to me in powerful ways as well. It never ceases to amaze me when I listen to a song that perfectly expresses how I feel. It is like a gift from Father.
As I look at our TWU team, it is so wonderful to see all the different ways we connect to Father and connect to one another. Our differences are what draw us together. I hope and pray that as you get to know all of us that you will see our hearts for all of you. We love you, and we are journeying with you.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
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