For the good guys

Peggy (right) her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996 (Yes, people really did go barefoot at school sometimes, or at least used to!)

Peggy (at right), her instructional assistant and preschool class in Oahu, Hawaii, 1996
(Yes, people really did go barefoot at school there sometimes, or at least used to!)

“Unfortunately, it is often the bad guys who play the leading roles in our memory…Let’s write a script for the good guys…It will be a musical, full of drama, laughter and tears, sorrows and triumphs, and it will end with a joyful song of praise and thanks.”
Barbara Gill, in Changed by a Child, a book for parents of children with disabilities

Today’s post honors someone who likely will never see it, because she is that rare creature (rare in my world, anyway) who spends absolutely no time online.  Despite being active in professional and community endeavors at home and abroad, and maintaining homes in Mississippi and Hawaii, she has no email or online accounts.  She’s unusual in at least one more way; read on to find out why.

We met Peggy at church while we lived in Hawaii.  We clicked instantly.  As a special education preschool teacher with decades of experience, Peggy understood a great many things about our life that others don’t get close enough to see or know.  I have watched her in her classroom, where she approached teaching with a tireless diligence that is essential when the teacher is also, in many senses, a caregiver whose curriculum includes goals such as toilet training and hygiene skills alongside reading and other academic lessons.

Peggy loves life, travels frequently, lives reverently and serves anyone who crosses her path, along with some who do not.  I love it that she is as frugal and adventurous as I am, and has been able to see the world on a teacher’s salary. She became a faithful friend and favorite traveling companion, and though we had to cancel our planned trip to go ride the mules together in Molokai, we did manage to squeeze in some fun day trips.

After we left Hawaii, she came to see us in California and Virginia, staying in touch between visits via the good old-fashioned method of handwritten cards and letters (and occasional phone calls, though this has been trickier since both of us divide our time between two homes with a potential six-hour time difference, and it’s hard to keep up with who is where, when).

When I first called Peggy to tell her of Jeff’s diagnosis, it was an emotional call for both of us, and we did not stay on the phone very long.  But just a few days later I got a pages-long, handwritten letter from her, offering heartfelt words of sorrow, comfort and support.  She then asked us to allow her to plan a time when she could come up and stay with Matt, so that Jeff and I could have something we have had very little of over the years: time alone together.  She gave specific details of when she would be available and asked for (and later called to get) a response so we would know she meant business.

In nearly 30 years since Matt came into our lives, very few people other than Drew have ever done this for us.  Specifically, two people. (Thanks, Ashley B., for being the other one – and we may yet take you up on it!)  Interestingly, both of them are people we met at church in Hawaii.  Ashley is a busy wife and mother of young children whose whole family is now living in a distant mainland state.  We have not seen them since we left Hawaii in 1996.  Yet here she was, as soon as she learned of Jeff’s diagnosis, offering (via Facebook messages) a very generous form of practical help.  There must be something about that aloha spirit that stays in the heart.

Anyway, as Raynard says, I digress…when Peggy made it clear that she did not intend to take “no” for an answer, we arranged everything.  Though we offered to buy her a plane ticket, her wonderful husband Sam (a real sweetheart) drove her up from the gulf coast of Mississippi all the way to Virginia.  She stayed with Matt here in Alexandria for ten days, while Jeff and I got some much-needed flooring work done on our York home, the high-dust, high-inconvenience sort of stuff that can’t really be done when people have to use the kitchen.  And we did enjoy our time together.

When we got back, it was clear that Peggy had done far more than park Matt in front of the television when he got home from work each day.  She left behind a lot of impressively improvised instructional materials and skill-building games, along with a happy, healthy Matt who had clearly relished the attention she showered on him.  Wow.  Just, Wow.

As I write this, Peggy is in Kenya, volunteering in preschools and children’s homes there.  I admire and love her for this, but to be honest, we know many wonderful people who do such work.  We know of only one other who was willing to do for us what Peggy did.  Now, I realize many will say “Yes, but she’s a special education teacher, of course she is able to do that.” To which I say: if you had just retired from nearly four decades teaching special ed preschool, would ten days of 24-hour caregiving be on your “to-do” list at all?

Besides, as Eleni, Darla, Mari and my sister Carla could all tell us, it doesn’t require any special expertise to connect with people with disabilities.  What it takes is the will to do it, and the kind of love that is more than a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Thank you, Peggy!  Thank you, Ashley!  Thank you, Eleni, Darla, Mari and Carla!  And thanks to all of you out there who fill such gaps in the lives of people you love.  You probably will never know quite how much it means, but I pray you will be eternally rewarded for your love.

 One year ago today:

A friend who cares




  1. Susan

    Good morning, Julia! What a wonderful photo and tribute to Peggy! You’ll have to print it out and send it to her! 😉

    • Susan, I was just thinking the same thing! I hope it will be waiting for her when she returns from Kenya.

  2. raynard

    Julia, we just had our last 10 week disipleship class last night. the theme was hearing the voice of God.One of my favorite scriptures is John where it talks about the sheep hearing his voice. After leaving class last night, I came away with a deeper sense and purpose” only when I grow in Christ in my relationship with him and” I will hear his voice. Then maybe I will know what he wants me to do with my life and”Just Do It”..A personal note, after reading your comments on U.R, I one day connected to this blog. I never stopped( even in these 12 hour work days, While I never” gave you a title( big sister , etc etc etc so on and so forth) thank you( I need to get off now cause” the theme from the Golden Girls in running around in my head..( you know ” like visions of sugar plums more like a ferris wheel@ the carnival lol.. be blessed

    • Thank you Raynard, I never watched that show even one time but my impression is those ladies were all a lot of fun. I agree with you about hearing the voice of Jesus – not in a literal sense but in coming to know him and recognizing his leading. C.S. Lewis wrote an interesting essay on “The Efficacy of Prayer” that talks about this. I don’t have a search function on the tablet I’m using right now (not one I know how to use anyway) or I would send you a link. Remind me later!

  3. Jack

    What a magnificent tribute to a cherished friend. A spiritual mentor who writes a blog says that most men (maybe not women) are consumed with “achieving, accumulating and experiencing”, and that in the process, they lose sight of the most important thing, making a difference in the lives of others. I affirm the truth of the statement and plead guilty to the charge.

    • Jack, I read that article and I think he is right. I think a lot of women have that same problem, although it may manifest differently. It may be worse among men because for so long, women mostly were limited to roles (mothering, care-giving, nursing, teaching) that were dependent upon maintaining relationships with people. But it seems to me that pretty much all of us nowadays are focused on those three things, and we even feel somewhat proud of ourselves if we emphasize achieving or experiencing over accumulating. Serving doesn’t fall on the spectrum anywhere. But Jesus said, as Dr. King and others have reminded us, that whoever wants to be great must serve. Thanks for the link! It’s entirely OK to share links here; in fact, I encourage it.

  4. Jack

    Julia, I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to provide a link to the blog to which I referred, but if it’s ok:

  5. When I open my eyes in the morning I say,” Lord please watch over me today.” I can always depend on him to send his angels :o)….Bless you.

  6. Not sure if I could make this. I have been commenting regularly here for the last few days but when I finally click the ‘post’ button it refuses to do that. I have even saved some of those comments. 🙂
    This is a really special post. I know how difficult it is to actually ‘do’ something for others with the intention to be of some genuine help. It’s hard to believe such selfless people still exist. No wonder she keeps away from computers – she must be so wise to realize (even without using them) how much of her time would be used up by them.
    Belated anniversary wishes! (I had more more there)

    • Bindu, I’m so sorry you’ve had problems with the comments. That happens to me sometimes, and it’s so frustrating! I always wonder if it’s my computer or the system or WordPress. Anyway, I’m glad you kept trying because this one did get through. I agree with you that Peggy probably gets a lot more done because she stays away from computers. There are times I wish I could reach her by email, but sometimes I think she has the right idea — especially wen the computer misbehaves and the “post” button won’t work! 😀 Thanks for the anniversary wishes!

  7. Michael

    She is one of those, “living saints among us.” What an inspiration and a fitting response to the UR devotional yesterday on retirement. Amidst all the negative trends in today’s world – her example offers hope.

    • Thanks for the note about the UR devotional – I’ll have to look it up. You are right, people such as Peggy do give me hope for this world.

  8. Now there is a real woman and a wonderful friend and someone you can trust with your heart! You are most blessed to have her in your lives!

    • Thanks, Pauline – we truly are blessed that she has come into our lives and stayed there, despite the effort that is always involved with keeping in touch. It’s all the more remarkable since she doesn’t use the internet, texting, Facebook or email. She is one of the most trustworthy people I know.

  9. What a blessing to have such great friend in your life. May each of us be such a friend…

    • I feel the same way, Merry…when I stop to count my blessings, I often think of Peggy among those friends who are clearly a gift from heaven. I doubt she realizes how grateful we are for her example. She’s too busy living it. 😀

  10. Sheila

    Julia, you’re right! Peggy is too busy living her life to give much thought to accolades! What a wonderful friend….and it sounds like you have many. This was definitely a post of honor. Beautiful, just beautiful. 🙂

    • Thank you Sheila. Peggy is a wonderful southern gal and I’m sure you would love her. I’m glad you liked the post!

  11. Sheila

    Julia, I guess this is a good time to give you an update on Jack, the rescue dog that seems to FINALLY be in my heart, instead of on my nerves. It has been so bad that I actually googled PTSD! 😦 Mind you, he is our fifth Boykin Spaniel… so we know the breed. It has been a long (short) three weeks. Tomorrow we go for the evaluation for “prep school” and hope it goes well. He is precious right now, he’s asleep! 🙂

    • Thank you Sheila, I was wondering but was afraid to ask – didn’t want to catch you on a “bad dog!” day. 😀 Did you google PTSD for the dog, or for you? Seriously, I just recently read the symptoms of PTSD and decided I must have it, after the past 18 months! No doubt about it, becoming a parent is hard, even when the adoptee is a dog instead of a child. Hope today went well at prep school – keep me posted and have a great weekend!

  12. Julia, what an incredible woman. How wonderful for all of you, especially Matt, to have someone like her in your lives.

    • Yes, we do feel lucky. Peggy is one in a million in so many ways.

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