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,
We are in the beautiful season of holidays where we have just honored mothers last month and will honor fathers this weekend. As you probably know from some of my previous posts, I lost my dad last year. It was one of the hardest things I've ever gone through. I discussed in a previous post (LINK) about how to help friends and loved ones who have lost, and mentioned specific days that are hard. While Mother's Day and Father's Day are beautiful times of celebration for many, they carry some expected moments of grief for others. Each year as Mother's Day and Father's Day draw near, the evidence is everywhere. Every advertising email reminds us to get a gift for Mother's Day or Father's Day. Every commercial is full of ideas for Mother's Day and Father's Day gifts. Even Food Network shows offer meal ideas in abundance. Grocery stores will even have manly food on sale as Father's Day approaches. It's everywhere.
If you know someone who has lost their mother or father this year, or ever, I challenge you to pray for them! They (counselors, fellow grievers, grief books and blogs) say the first year of every holiday is the worst. Father's Day for me last year felt like a different kind of worse. It's sort of like waiting for a category five hurricane to hit or waiting for a tornado to pass while hiding in your bathroom when the sirens go off. It's heavy. It's scary. I read this from a blog by someone who lost their dad ten years ago:
"Ever since, I have felt the most raw and exposed on Father's Day and on the anniversary of the day he died, Feb. 15. It's like a wild hunger. No amount of time could ever fully heal the pain. Father's Day, in particular, will always make that hole inside me feel deeper because my loss becomes a lot more obvious. While everyone else is gathering to show their love for their dad, I am in mourning." (from The Globe and Mail)
And he wrote that ten years after losing his dad. So remember the motherless and fatherless in your life this Mother's Day and Father's Day season. Celebrate! Enjoy your mom and dad. Love them. Buy them a gift no matter how silly or last minute it is. Make him or her their favorite cake, even if it's from a box. Tell them you love them. Take a picture with each of them, you probably don't have enough. Call them often. Do anything and everything you can. And when you're done enjoying every possible moment with your mom and dad you can, pray for us - the motherless and fatherless, the widows; the ones without their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters.
And if my plea and words aren't convincing enough, I'm pretty sure the Heavenly Father is okay with you thinking and praying for us too.
"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10: 17-18
"When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow." Deuteronomy 24:19-21
"But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." Psalm 10:14
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." Psalm 82:3
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
If you're motherless or fatherless during this Mother's Day and Father's Day season, grieve the way you need to! If you need to skip church and the special service every church will inevitably have, you have permission. Take your Bible somewhere else and spend some time with Jesus. He knows you're hurting. Take at least a moment in the day to let the Heavenly Father love you. Cry, weep, mourn. And then if you're up for it, remember. Remember her. Remember him.
I likely won't be going to church again this year on Father's Day either. Or to Starbucks - too many people that might see me cry. I'll probably go to a coffee shop that's a little quieter on Sundays, spending time with my Heavenly Father on my own. I'll cry. And then I'll remember with people who can handle it and understand that it's okay to be sad and happy at the same time. The mother of the son who wrote the blog post I quoted earlier puts a yearly memorial in their local paper that reads, "My happiness is filled with sadness without you to share it with."
Grieve the way you need to! If that means being alone, it's okay! But if you don't want to be alone, surround yourself with people who will remember with you.
Let's make our own rules,
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