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,
As an educator, I get to work with kids from all walks of life. Some kids come to school ready to soak it all in and learn. It is obvious that they have been invested in. You can tell from their conversations that the adults in their lives have taken the time to love them, play with them, teach them, read to them, and ensure their environment is safe and appropriate. You can also tell which kids don’t spend quality time with the adults in their life, haven’t been read to as much, don’t feel as loved, and who have not had someone safeguarding their environment and what they are exposed to. Both types of kids are FULL OF POTENTIAL, but those whose homes have not been so great often face much greater challenges in realizing their potential. The greatest challenge I face in my job relates to loving that kid that is “unlovable” and encouraging him (or her) to rise and succeed despite the odds. The greatest moments of joy come when that kid truly reaches that potential!
But really, is the same true of us as adults? Can the outsider observing us see that we are loved? That we spend time with our families? That we spend time with our Heavenly Father? That we are being taught by Him? That we expose ourselves to things that will build up our character, not tear it down?
Here’s the catch: as an adult, we have much more power to choose the influences in our lives than a child does. Plus, we have a Heavenly Father who is ready and willing to invest in us, to spend time with us, to teach us. We just have to let Him into our lives.
So today, I want to encourage you to reach your full potential. Intentionally make time to spend with the Lord and with those He has placed you closest to. Be wrapped up in His Love, letting it overflow to others. Surround yourself with influences that will help lift you up, not distract you from living a godly life. Choose joy, not anger and bitterness. Rise above all you have been and grasp all you can be in Christ. Allow His influence on your life to shine through and be easily seen. As you do this, you will succeed. Despite the odds, despite your past, you will become all He has created you to be. The world around you will notice and be encouraged. Your influence will be great and will spark the greatness in others.
Stay connected to Him, and enjoy the journey of becoming!
So, have you ever walked into your house after a long day, looked around, and thought, “How in the world did this BIG mess get in MY house??” I had this thought just the other day, and it made me began to think of the connections to my spiritual life. Have you ever gotten to a point in your own life and thought “How did MY life become such a BIG mess??”
In my house, the messes come when one person leaves something out instead of putting it in its place. Then, someone else does, and then someone else. You get the idea. After a while, these little compromises become an avalanche of clutter that needs to absolutely be cleaned. I think to myself, “You know if you just cleaned it up as you go, this would not happen…..”
Messes in our lives are exactly the same way. Some challenges that come into our lives are completely out of our control and catch us completely by surprise. We feel like we have been blindsided, spun around, flipped over upside down and inside out. Yet, other times, these challenges come from the little messes that become medium messes, that become large messes, that then become an out of control mega mess. How do I stop this pattern and learn to clean as I go in MY life?
The scripture that keeps running through my mind is from Psalm 139. The key verbs are search, know, try, know (again), see, and lead. It starts with searching and ends with leading. Isn’t that what we want Father to do….search us, know us, and ultimately lead us??
Psalm 139:23-24 (NAS)
23Search me, O God, and know my heart ; Try me and know my anxious thoughts ; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.
When translated in Hebrew, “hurtful” means: pain, sorrow, idol, and “way” means road, path, journey, course of life, or direction.” I want Father to look and see if there is pain or sorrow that may come from a choice I am making, or an idol that I am worshipping and putting before Him that will bring sorrow or pain. When choices I make lead me in a direction or on a journey that will take me to a place I never intended to be, I want Father to show me. Yes, it may be painful. Yes, it may require that I make changes in MY plans for MY life, but oh the pain and sorrow that I will not experience makes it all worthwhile.
My prayer for each and every one of you reading this is that when these challenges or messes enter into our lives that they will never turn into a MEGA mess. I pray each day that your mind is showered with truth and full of His grace. Ask Him each day to search you and to know you. When that anxiety begins to rise, ask Him to show you why it is there. Let Him lead you and guide you. Letting go of our plans can be hard, but in the end it will bring joy and peace we could have never imagined of dreamed of.
During our Unglued Bible Study, Lysa Terkeurst had us reflect on others who are affected by our decisions. That made me think about how my decisions not only affect my children and husband but my children’s children will be impacted as well. It is amazing that when I am asking Father to search me that ultimately it will impact my children and their children. I want them to walk in truth and to lean on Him. I know you want that too.
Remember dear sisters that you are loved!!
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