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Begin by excelling at the small things

In his book Tough Mercy, Mills Home alum Ted Chandler writes, “In January 1934, my brothers and I rode all day in a cold drizzle wedged together with our belongings in parcels. John was ten years old, Cal eight, and I was six.” The boys arrived at their new home unsure about the days ahead, but as “a light snow” began to fall, the brothers stepped into a bright future. Chandler spent the next 11 years growing up at the Baptist Orphanage in Thomasville.

The 92-year-old says he was known as “the laziest orphan ever.” But he also says his life in Thomasville was transformational. “My days were alive with hope.” His musing of being lazy leaves out that a fire was ignited in his belly in those days. He remembers General Superintendent I.G. Greer encouraging the children, telling everyone they must excel –– “even if only at shooting marbles...”

Playing marbles at recess in the schoolyard was more exciting for me than sitting in the classroom on a late spring morning. I was a good student, but math and science couldn’t compete with games of “keepsies.” Steelies, cat’s eyes, bumblebees, black eyed peas, and watermelons were prized marbles and among the many that filled the long red-denim pouch with a black shoestring tie that Mom sewed to keep me from losing any.

Mom was a marble player, too. I own an antique Mason jar, shaded blue with a zinc lid, filled to the top with her childhood marbles. She told me tales of drawing a circle in the dirt outside her grandparents’ home and playing marbles with her male cousins.

Bobbed brown hair, wearing shorts and scuffed Buster Browns, her cotton ribbed socks bunched around her ankles, she held court as she played “knuckles down” and “bombsies” as well as any boy. When I showed interest in playing marbles, she was eager to show the best marble holds. She loaned me a couple of her best marbles to get started. She taught me how to excel at marbles.

Greer understood the key to a child learning anything. It is to begin by teaching the child to excel at small things.

Jesus was patient with His disciples. He needed to be. They made mistakes, but He continued to push them to reach outside of themselves and excel. The three years Jesus spent with them was a crash course teaching and preparing them to launch a world-wide Kingdom effort –– “much would be expected.” At the right time, He commanded them “therefore go and make disciples of all nations” and achieve something big!

Ted, Cal and John learned how to excel at the Orphanage. Ted went on to attend Wake Forest College and medical school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he was granted a place in the first class of Morehead Scholars. A long career as a medical doctor culminated with becoming Professor Emeritus at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Cal had a fulfilling career as a hospital administrator, while John received a Ph.D. from Duke University and distinguished himself by serving as president of two lauded east coast colleges.

No matter where one is in life, it’s not too late to excel. It is good to push oneself to be really good at something. It is good to reach beyond your comfort and achieve something never thought possible.

Stuck at coming up with what to try first? Allow me to suggest a game of marbles.

Article by Jim Edminson, Charity & Children Editor

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