Karen May is one of those rare friends who comes along in a lifetime. For over 20 years I have been nurtured by her friendship. There are a multitude of words that describe Karen, and her hundreds of friends, family members, and former students can certainly attest to that. Empathetic, sacrificing, loving, selfless, faithful, unconditional acceptance, compassionate, unassuming, diligent – these are yet just a few qualities that characterize Karen. For 38 years, she faithfully served as an elementary school librarian here in Dothan. There were no discernable boundaries between her profession and her ministry. She considered the pupils she taught each day like her own children. When she saw a child in need, she responded with love and compassion immediately. It was not unusual for her to teach two generations of a family. A couple of weeks ago, friends, family, and educators gathered at The Depot to pay tribute to Karen and her distinguished tenure as an educator.
The surprise retirement party was pulled off without a hitch! (Thanks, Twyla Williams!)
Pictured below are daughters Lauren Crawley, Courtney Calhoun, Karen, and brother Kevin Maddox
Courtney May Calhoun shares her reflections of how she found the perfect balance of family and career..
I don’t even know where to begin. My mom is the most kindhearted, generous person I know. She is the epitome of self-denial for the sake of Christ, and she reflects Christ’s love in how she lives. Growing up, mom would always tell us, “Pretty is as Pretty does,” meaning kindness is more important than outward appearance. She lives that way, sharing Christ’s kindness with everyone she meets. She taught school for 38 years (35 of those years in the same school!) and I am convinced that every student she taught was impacted by her kindness. When Lauren and I were younger, I remember mom coming home talking about her students and how much she enjoyed instilling in them the joy of reading. She has had so many former Stringer Street students come back to tell her how she influenced their own love of reading. As the years went by and the school was renamed Faine Elementary, mom still worked hard encourage a joy for books in her young readers but she also saw a greater need. It wasn’t uncommon for mom to buy socks, pants or toiletries for her students in need— as a teacher, she not only provided for their educational needs but for their physical and practical needs as well. She really saw teaching as a ministry opportunity. Although she didn’t blatantly share the gospel out loud during class, she did share Christ’s love with all her students, and when appropriate she shared specific teachings with individual students.
Mom was the perfect balance of work and family life. I know she would have stayed home with Lauren and me if she could have, but as a single mother, she continued working in order to provide for us. Her teaching career afforded her the opportunity for the “best of both worlds”—While she did work full-time in order to provide for us financially, she was also at home when we were (3 o’clock in the afternoon, every school holiday and summer vacation) so we never felt like we weren’t provided for emotionally. Especially when we were younger and in school, mom lived out self-denial and sacrifice in very real ways. For instance, every night (with the exception of Wednesday night church) we always ate dinner around the table as a family (even during hectic cheerleading and band seasons). Now that I have Lucy I realize that meal preparation, cooking and serving is harder than it looks, especially to two picky, ungrateful and messy girls, but mom saw the bigger picture and was willing to sacrifice herself so that we could grow as a family. Another example is that she would sing “Rise and Shine” every morning as she was waking us up for school. Now that I have Lucy, I realize that wasn’t always a “natural” or easy choice, but she chose worship over morning grumpiness.
Now that I’m a mom, I see glimpses of the sacrifices my mom made:
· she traded trendy styles for “mom jeans”
· she traded nights out with friends for Friday night T.V. time with me and Lauren
· she traded relaxing with Southern Living magazine for reading “The Babysitters Club” out loud to us for the 14th time
· she traded “treating herself” to anything “extra” (manicures, eating out, new clothes, etc.) for saving up money so we could have a family summer vacation
My mom finds her strength in the Lord and His love is evident in her life. Every night before she goes to bed, mom has a devotional time, not because she is legalistic, but because her relationship with God is her source of energy and stability. As a child I remember getting out of bed (for a 3rd drink of water, a potty break, [insert lame childhood excuse here], etc) and finding my mother reading her Bible before bed. That is probably the single most influential thing my mom has ever done for me, as silent as it was. Now that I am a mother, I am tempted to let the distractions of life sweep me away from time with God but I am convicted when I reflect on my mother’s faithfulness. If she could remain faithfully committed to daily devotional time with the Lord in the midst of single-parenthood and full-time work, what excuse do I have? Her silent daily routine has taught me that 5 minutes is all it takes when that’s all the time you have, but that the more time you spend with God, the more you yearn to know and love Him more, and the more time you find yourself spending with Him.
Mom taught me how to read, host company, pray, serve a formal meal, jar preserves, set a table, scrapbook, study the Bible, put up peas, drive a car, fry okra, and basically everything else I know. She is still teaching me everyday as I learn to parent Lucy. I pray that I will grow to be as kind, generous, and sacrificial as my mom is… I still have so much to learn from her.
Here’s to many wonderful years ahead enjoying the well deserved fruits of retirement. There will be even more time for hugs, smocking, and sewing for sweet granddaughter, Lucy Ann.
Today marks Karen’s last official day at Faine Elementary School. However, by popular demand, she will continue to return to the school each year for a role that has become her trademark . . .
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss