In my entire working life, I’ve only been fired once. I’m not proud that I have this blemish on an otherwise stellar career. And it all came back to me when I was asked to speak in the chapel service at Hannibal LaGrange University.
When I attended the school, it was Hannibal LaGrange College, but now the school is one of our northernmost Southern Baptist universities. This quaint institution is tucked away in the hilly tri-states area of Missouri, right down the road from the home of Mark Twain.
During my time there, I got a great job as a school bus driver. I picked up the children in the morning and dropped them off at their school before attending mine. When classes were over, I picked up the children again and dropped them off on my way back home.
The only not-so-cool thing about this job was that my mode of transportation didn’t attract many girls. Every other guy came roaring into the campus parking lot in a Mustang or Camaro. There I was, pulling up in a big yellow school bus. Mine was no ordinary bus route, but one that served special needs children.
I loved these kids. Every day when I opened the bus door, the children all gave me a hug as they climbed aboard. They were full of love and the hugs that accompanied it. They hugged me when they got on and when they got off. On an average day, I probably received 60 hugs.
The route was long, and some of the children stayed on the bus for an hour. To make the trip more interesting, I led them in singing as we drove down the road. Next to hugging, they loved singing best. Every day, we sang all the way to school and back.
You may remember a once-popular song called “Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road).” We always ended our ride to school with that song, sung as high and loud as we could. I timed our trip, so the chorus coincided with a small speed bump. Here’s how it went:
“You got yer
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
Dead skunk in the middle of the road
You got yer dead skunk in the middle of the road
Stinkin’ to high Heaven!”
With the kids all straining, we held the word “high” as long as it took for the back wheels of the bus to hit the speed bump in the parking lot. As the bus jolted over the bump, the kids laughed with the kind of innocence only God understands. Their little voices yelled, “Do it again, do it again!” But by that time, it was too late. We had rolled up to the front door where their teachers waited to receive them.
This routine continued every school day for almost a year and half. One day, we were singing our hearts out on the last song as we approached the school. But this time I hit the speed bump a little too fast. The children caught some air between their bottoms and the bus seats. Not only were they singing high, but they felt high, too. When they came down, they were giggling, laughing, and begging me to do it again. They thought it was the best ride ever.
The problem came when they got off the bus and told their teachers. For every hour that passed, the amount of air between their bottoms and the bus seats got bigger. By the end of the day, I was summoned to the administrator’s office and asked about the incident. I explained that I hit the speed bump a little harder than usual that morning, but the children were never in danger. Still, at the end of the meeting, my employment was terminated, and I turned in my keys.
I thank God for this experience of working with what the world calls “special needs children.” Truth be told, I was the one with special needs. I didn’t know how to love as those precious children did in a pure, non-judgmental way. They didn’t care about my race, social status or bank account. They had so much love inside that they had to share it with the next person they met. And by God’s grace, that person was me.
My bus experience reminds me of Matthew 19:14: “’Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’”
Could it be that in a world full of ungodliness, when Jesus got a little homesick, He called a child to Himself to remind Him what heaven is like? I’ve already experienced it—there on a bus full of special children.
Photo credit: Kentaro Toma