Amy Copeland, Preschool and Special Needs Director at New River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas, knows all about God’s control, and God’s grace. While growing up, she aspired to become a teacher, and while still attending the University of Kentucky, she married her husband, Barry. After graduating, Barry’s job led them to Cincinnati, then to Ridgeland, Mississippi, where she gave birth to their first daughter, Kaylyn. “I was passionate about my child as any new mom would be,” she said, “but perhaps a little more so, since I never really knew if I would be able to have any children at all.” Amy had been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and her doctors had cautioned her that conceiving a child could be very difficult. “Once I saw that little girl wrapped up in that tiny little hospital blanket, I knew my role as a parent was going to be the biggest and most important role I would ever have here on earth. This new passion would spark everything I did during the next fifteen years.”
As her oldest daughter went off to kindergarten, her second miracle baby, Ashton, missed her sister so much she begged her mom to go to school as well, even though she was only two. So Amy applied and got a teaching position at New River’s Kids Day Out, or KDO, program, and Ashton attended KDO’s three-year-old class. “I fell in love with the kids, and from those years of serving God’s little ones, I learned I was supposed to work with young kids. I had found my Joy and my Calling.” So over the next four years she studied for her Texas Teaching Certification and substitute taught at a local elementary school.
“During my last two years of subbing,” Amy said, “I got a call to cover a class for a lady I knew, Angie, an aide in the Autism Unit. She told me she felt terrible that day and asked me to cover her on Thursday. I said hesitantly, ‘Sure.’ Until that moment, I had avoided the Special Education Department like the plague. I didn’t feel comfortable in those classrooms at all, and I had no desire to work inside one.”
“Well, little did I know what God was about to do,” she continued. “I worked for Angie on Thursday and received a call from her again that evening. She asked if I could work for her again on Friday. I thought, Well, I survived one day, I guess two won’t hurt. Her last words to me during our phone conversation on Thursday evening were, ‘Thank you, Amy. By the way, the class is going on a field trip and you can wear my T-shirt that is in my locker. I just don’t think I’m going to beat this illness before the weekend.’ Wow! One day in the Autism Unit and now I was headed to the Special Olympics at the Weatherford High School football field. God is funny! He just loved putting me outside of my comfort zone. I realized that day that special needs kids are just like any other kid. They need to be loved, nurtured, corrected, and just have fun playing.”
Tragically, the Sunday after Amy took the kids to the Special Olympics, Angie passed away from the swine flu. The school asked Amy to continue to substitute teach until they found someone to take over the position permanently. She stayed on for two and a half more months, but Amy never applied for the position; she’d given in to the voice in her head that she didn’t have what it took to tackle the job long term. The lead teacher later told her she should have applied for the position.
“I never thought of myself as a Special Education teacher until the moment she told me she wanted me to stay. That’s when I became the ‘Sped Sub.’” She then substituted at the Autism Unit almost daily, and at the encouragement of the lead teacher, Amy went back to school and obtained her Special Education Certification. “I love teaching and I love kids, all kids! God has had me on quite a journey to show me what my passions and abilities truly are, and working within my passion in a way that brings glory to Him. This brings me joy!” Amy understands it, and she demonstrates that joy amazingly well.
Another person who understands joy is Kayla McMillan, also known as Kayla Mac. Just being around this enthusiastic young lady for a few minutes can lift up your mood, and, like Amy, Kayla also had an epiphany that painted her life with permanent joy. It started in her freshman year of high school when she failed her standardized state assessment tests—all of them. Then her best friend died. “I think my ninth grade year was my turning point,” said Kayla, “I saw my best friend the night before, then I found out the next day she was dead in a car accident.”
In addition to struggling with the heartbreaking loss of her best friend, Kayla also wrestled with feeling secure in her own identity. But the reality and finality of her best friend’s death opened her eyes to the fact that she was her own person. The tragedy spurred her to question what she was going to make of herself. “So I determined Kayla Mac was gonna be me. I was scared nobody would recognize me,” she said.
“Throughout high school I made a name for myself,” she explained. She really wanted to become an athlete, but “I wasn’t good at sports. I tried basketball and I tried volleyball.” She even did track, but “God had a different plan: I became an athletic trainer. I got to stand on the field. I got to be at every game. I did athletic training for football, then I did basketball. I wouldn’t change anything, I was so excited. The best years of my life were spent on the field.”
Copyright © 2014 by David C. Hughes