Falling snow and temperatures threatened to end school early on that wintery Friday morning 20 years ago...
However, my attention quickly shifted from the excitement buzzing around the building to the students at our elementary school who did not have coats to keep them warm in the impending storm. Thankfully, the community had recently donated a generous supply of new and used coats. So, when the forecast started looking severe, I paused my to-do list for the day and focused my efforts on ensuring that every student who needed a coat got one.
I set up the coat distribution area in the school’s front office. The tables and counters held piles of different sizes, styles, materials, and colors. Whether new or used, I was confident that each one would bless a child with warmth and care.
As students came down to the office throughout the morning, I tried to help them find the right coat. I not only wanted a good fit, but I also wanted the children to actually like them. But after helping the first few students, I found most of them simply wanted to be warm and didn’t care about the details. They just shrugged and said, “It’s fine,” and walked out of the room wearing the first one that fit.
By the afternoon, my inventory had significantly diminished. As I sifted through the coats that had been tossed to the side due to various odd sizes, unpopular styles, or unique colors, I started to get nervous, hoping my pile of leftovers would suffice. Despite my dwindling supplies and their less-than-stylish condition, I knew these coats could still positively impact the rest of the students on my list. But nothing could have prepared me for the reaction of the next student.
I looked up to see Thomas standing outside the office door. He was dressed in tattered jeans and a thin, blue jacket. His red hair haphazardly curled up over his ears and collar, revealing a definite need for a haircut. His glasses, barely held together with masking tape, rested crookedly on his freckled nose. Despite his disheveled appearance, he had an air of intelligence about him. His bright, friendly smile was a mile wide. I had always liked him.
I invited him into the room.
As he walked toward me, it was clear that he would require a larger size than most of the fourth-grade students. Concern rose up once again as I looked over the slim pickings.
I eventually found four options, offering him a quilted coat, a puffy ski jacket, a fleece-lined hoodie, and a faux fur-lined parka.
Each time Thomas would try one on he’d say, “Nope. That’s not my coat,” or, “No. This one just doesn’t feel right.”
As I looked around the office, I realized I had run out of options. None of the coats left would fit him.
Suddenly, Thomas’ entire demeanor changed.
“Hey, there’s my coat!” He yelled so loudly that the class across the hall could hear him.
Coats flew off the table haphazardly, as he pulled a military, olive-colored coat from the bottom of the pile. I watched in surprise as he closely inspected it. He checked the buttons, pockets, collar, and hem.
I couldn’t help but question his choice, “Thomas, that really looks a couple of sizes too large. What makes you think it’s your coat?”
He gently ran his hands over the coat with a sweet expression on his face. He whispered, “My coat.” Then he added, “It had a zipper in the collar where a hood popped out.”
He unzipped the collar, and sure enough, a hood was folded inside.
I watched him curiously but didn’t say anything. Many coats have hoods tucked inside of the collars, I rationalized.
He quickly put the coat on, zipped it up, and took a deep breath. His big brown eyes practically glowed with joy.
He then reached into one of the pockets and turned it inside out while explaining, “One day, when I was little, I wore this coat and put markers in the pocket. There was a big red mark in here.”
He looked at the pocket. The biggest smile I had ever seen in my life appeared on this little boy’s face as he showed me the red marker stain on the lining of that pocket.
“See? I told you. It’s my coat. I thought it was lost forever!”
I was completely stunned that he knew about the marker stain.
“It does look awesome on you, Thomas.”
“Thank you for my coat,” he said. “I prayed a long time for this.”
Was this You, God? I hesitantly wondered.
My attention snapped back to the moment as Thomas continued.
“I used to wear this coat all the time. It was my most favorite coat. It was so warm and smelled like my dad. It used to be his, but then he gave it to me right before he disappeared. I wore it all the time after that. It was my only thing from my dad.”
Feeling a little choked up, I replied, “Wow, this coat is really special.”
He looked at the floor as he quietly continued, “But I lost it when our house burned down and burned everything we had.”
I was speechless.
Then, he triumphantly raised his head.
“But now, here it is. God gave me my coat back! It made it through the fire!”
He turned and walked out the office door before I could say anything.
With tears in my eyes, I smiled and watched Thomas walk down the hall wearing his beloved coat. The coat was way too big for him, but it still wasn’t as big as the joy that filled the hallway.
When he reached his classroom door, he jumped, high-fived the wall, and yelled, “Thanks, God!”
Thomas’ coat had been in God’s hands the whole time, even when it appeared to be lost forever. God had heard the prayers of this precious child and, through His miraculous ways, made sure He answered them.
As I look back on that school day twenty years ago, I think of Thomas’ unwavering hope and his complete confidence that God had returned to him what was once lost. Thomas expected God to provide for him. And, he simply accepted the blessing with thanksgiving once God did.
Since that day, I have aspired to live with “Thomas-like” faith. Following his example, I have found that when I intentionally recognize God’s blessings in my life, my heart automatically fills with confident thanksgiving for what God has done for me. As a result, my days are filled with more joy, and my hope in what God will do in and through my life is strengthened. Like Thomas, I want to live with unwavering, steadfast hope that inspires others to put their hope in God as well.
Starr Yarber-Reaves, a former teacher from Arkansas, writes short stories, devotionals, and children's books. Danny's Big Problem with an Unfriendly Dragon, the first children’s book in a series of three, will be available for purchase in the summer of 2023.
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