Worth the Tears: The Story of a Struggling Reader

 As Katie stared at the bold black letters on the page, tears dripped down her cheeks. Her teacher wasn’t surprised. This was the daily routine.

Every day they worked on reading together. It seemed like it was never going to get easier. Katie wondered why her teacher couldn’t just read to her; she liked listening to stories! Learning to read on her own, however, seemed just painful. 

It wasn’t that Katie’s teacher hadn’t laid a good foundation. They had gone over phonics thoroughly.  Still, only three-letter words seemed hard. Katie’s dramatic emotions didn’t help. She even declared that she didn’t want to read. And every day the tears came.

Thankfully, Katie’s teacher could see beyond the surface. Katie’s conflict ran deeper than letters and sounds. Unlike some children, Katie’s greater struggle to read wasn’t brought on by letters moving backwards in her head or a non-verbal bent. A big part of Katie’s struggle was that she couldn’t see. The letters blurred together, not just because of her tears and even with the best glasses she could get. Along with that, Katie was learning a lesson even harder than reading: Because of her vision issues, she was different from other kids her age. While they might fight to remember when an e is silent, she might fight to simply see that it was an e and not a c. That realization hurt. Of course, the fact that she could see at all was something to be thankful for, but a six-year-old’s life isn’t always governed by logic. (Actually, no one’s is…)

Knowing all that, her teacher did battle with her and those BOB books. Sure, she probably pulled out her hair a few times and even shed a few frustrated tears of her own, but she wanted Katie to read normal print books if she ever could.

Mercifully, the teacher got a little help. A gentleman read to Katie on a regular basis. She had been read to before – that’s how she knew she liked hearing stories –  but as the days went by she slowly discovered that books were her ticket to adventures and the places and people she wanted to learn about. She just had to take hold of it.

Months of tedium and tears continued. Then one day, all the pieces came together. Katie decided she wanted to take hold of her ticket to adventure and board the train herself. There were so many people and places she wanted to learn about! She also figured out that if she could get up early and snuggle into her favorite blue chair, she had the perfect place to read. There was no one to mind that she held the book two inches away from her nose. She read books like the Little House series that she had loved listening to and new mysteries She felt rather satisfied when she read a biography of Daniel Boone that had hundreds of pages. Lessons in Braille fed her new-found love for letters, even though she continued to read mostly with her eyes

And she kept reading. Through two international moves, junior high, high school, and right on through college when she gained her BA. By this time Katie knew that she relished stories. Even more than that, she knew that she loved God’s story.

You see, Katie had been given a key to not only escapades and faraway places but also to God’s Word, another book she read for herself. Within those pages, she learned that God doesn’t make mistakes and that even if we don’t understand why He gives us certain circumstances and life may be just plain hard, He is worthy of our trust. Stories from history that she read gave her hope that God can use even the challenges in our lives for good purposes.

Now Katie still reads – though not as much as she might like – and contacts help her see better, but she also seeks to share stories with others to give them at least a glimpse of the hope she’s been given. 

Maybe not every struggling reader will be like Katie. Maybe God has other stories to tell in some of their lives. But, for all of you who are or will be traipsing through tedium and tears this school year, I hope it’s an encouragement. Teaching a child to read – to whatever extent he or she is able – is a great gift. You never know what God might have in store for your student. I think Katie and her teacher decided it was worth the tears, don’t you?

And just who was Katie’s teacher? Of all the people in the whole wide world, it was her mom. And the gentleman who read to her? He was her dad. 

I should know because I am Katie. Funny how a girl by any other name can be-one-and-the-same, isn’t it? And, yes, I’d say it was worth the tears. I’m thankful Mom and Dad thought so, too. 


Teriyaki Hot Chocolate & the Sweetness of Shared Stories

At this time of year, much of the world is thinking about lemonade more than hot chocolate. But I recently attended a graduation celebration and traveled down a dusty, bumpy, laughter-graced memory lane to Guatemala as I chatted with old and new friends. That’s how teriyaki hot chocolate came up.

The incident of the teriyaki hot chocolate could make one wonder why my mother ever let me in the kitchen. In self-defense, I was only eleven or so – old enough to know better, yes, but still…My family was living in Guatemala, and it was around New Year’s Eve. Now you may think that it would never get cold enough on the edge of the jungle even in January for hot chocolate to be desirable. However, when you’re used to temps in the 90s, the 50s with no home heating can feel plenty frigid! A family from the States was visiting us, so their mom, my mom and I were all in the kitchen, making a gigantic pot of hot chocolate from scratch (more or less). 

To make a potentially long story short, when a girl isn’t paying much attention, bottles of vanilla and bottles of teriyaki sauce can easily be interchanged. As you may imagine, the results were less than appealing. Down the drain went the whole pot of hot chocolate.

It was an opportunity to laugh at myself. (I’ve had quite a few of those.) The visiting mom made it easier on me by sharing a kitchen tale or two of her own. (Something about warming socks in the oven…?) Then, when the other kids heard about it, I was comforted by admissions of brownie-baking blunders.

All these years later, we still remember these moments with grins. Chatting at the graduation party, I realized how good it is to talk with people who shared snippets of my Guatemala years and was reminded of the truth I gained from the terrible teriyaki hot chocolate tale: shared stories sweeten life. By being a part of my kitchen catastrophe and then sharing their own stories with me, these friends sweetened up my life. The same thing can happen each day as we take the time to share even a sentence or paragraph of our lives with others and take part in a page of theirs. It’s kind of like a dash of vanilla or a sprinkle of marshmallows in a cup of hot chocolate. 

Maybe you don’t have many people who are sharing your story right now. I’ve had seasons like that, too. Talk about hard and lonely! Here’s the thing:  even if no one else is sharing your story right now, God is. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, however you’re feeling, God is right there with you. Along with His presence, He’s invited us to share in His Story through His Word and through the lives He gives us each day. (Psalm 25:14, 2 Corinthians 3:3, Ephesians 2:10, ESV.)