Leora smiled as she opened the treasure chest packed full of valentines. The valentines were gifts to the needy children of Oak Park, a neighborhood that was ridden with poverty, neglect and abuse, but Jesus had passed by and Leora had responded to His call. Because of her life-changing experience, Leora had started a weekly children's church.
“Don't push!” Leora ordered to the children standing in line.
“I want one with pink lace!” Connie squealed.
“I want one with a puppy on it!” Kenny cried.
“They’re plenty of valentines! Don't worry you'll get your turn.” Leora announced. “Each one of you gets a chocolate heart, too.”
Shrieks of delight echoed in the room.
Leora knew what it was to be poor. She had been raised by alcoholic parents and experienced much of the neglect that these young lives were exposed to.
“You always have the best valentine's parties for us!” Jimmy exclaimed.
“Thank you, Jimmy.” Leora said as she patted his tiny head. “Do you know why?”
“Because God gave us the best Valentine of all. He gave us Jesus! Because His love has touched our lives we should share His love with every one. Freely we have received and freely we give!”
Jimmy beamed as he popped his milk chocolate heart in his mouth.
Year after year Leora faithfully tended to the needs of the wee lambs the Good Shepherd had sent her way. She gave hair-cuts, fixed meals, and attempted to bring love into their loveless lives, but the valentine parties were the highlight of the year. Leora saved all year long to purchase scraps of lace, ribbon, glue and construction paper. She personally made each valentine.
As the years passed by, Leora grew quite feeble. She could no longer care for herself. The doctor informed her family that she had only a few days to live. A young man appeared at her hospital room door.
The young man greeted Leora. “Miss Leora, it’s me, Jimmy! I've brought you a valentine. You know how us Oak Park kids love valentines.” Jimmy choked. Tears trickled down his cheeks. “I just wanted to say thank you for all the hair-cuts, meals, and little ways you showed you cared.”
Leora's funeral was a sight to behold. People from all walks of life came to celebrate Leora’s homegoing.
A young minister stood behind the pulpit and began the funeral service.
“Good afternoon! My name is Pastor Ken Holtz. I was one of the children, whose life Miss Leora impacted. In fact there are a group of us here today from Miss Leora's children's church that would like to take this time to honor our beloved teacher.”
Her former children’s church kids, now grown, walked slowly past her lifeless body. Each placed a valentine made with pretty ribbons in Leora's casket.
Pastor Ken continued, “This coffin may be a coffin to you, but to those of us whose lives Miss Leora touched - it's our treasure chest. It holds our greatest earthly treasure, Miss Leora. She brought hope to so many of us, who were born into hopeless situations. It’s because of her influence I am a pastor today. Little did I know when I was a boy listening to all her Bible stories that I would be the one who would conduct her funeral service. It seems ironic to those of us who knew her, that she loved Valentine's Day so much, because Miss Leora's life was filled with so much love. Yes, indeed, this vessel of love left deep “footprints” in my soul! Maybe I should say in all our souls!”
Amens rippled across the congregation.
Pastor Ken held up several old tattered valentines for the congregation to see. “These are valentines Miss Leora made for me years ago. I have kept them because every time I would feel like nobody cared. I would dig out my valentines. They were a constant reminder to me that someone did care.”
Muffled sobs filled the sanctuary.
“Miss Leora always said that Jesus was God’s Valentine to us. I think that God also sent Miss Leora to us. She’s our valentine, too! That’s why we have her dressed in lace with pretty ribbons in her hair. Our valentine in a treasure chest.”
A holy hush descended upon the listeners. Then, suddenly as if prompted by God Himself the lives that Miss Leora poured herself into stood to their feet and chanted, “Freely we have received. Freely we give!”
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