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News & Devotions

Devotion from Tonya Tolson, Diversity Committee Chair (July 3)


“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3

I am the proud mother of two kind and creative adult children. Nicholas is now 30 years old and Maya is 26.

When we lived in Harlem NYC, their father and I were fortunate to send Nick and Maya to a great public elementary school in the Upper Eastside.

When Maya was in first grade, one day she came home excitedly and asked me if she could have a playdate with Emily, a classmate learning with down syndrome experience.  As part of a NYC education program, special children like Emily were mainstreamed into classes like Maya’s.  But, unlike Maya, she would stay same teacher and teaching assistant for two years, instead of one.

When I called Emily’s mother to ask if a playdate was possible, to my surprise, she wept, and said that no student had ever asked Emily for a playdate.  Emotional, I confessed that since we lived in Harlem, children rarely came to our home from the Upper Eastside.  I told her, if it were easier for her, Maya and I could come to their home. She said no that wouldn’t be necessary.  Her husband, Emily’s father, would be happy to bring her over.

She had some reservations, though, and told me that there were a lot of things Emily was allergic to and could not eat, especially peanut butter.  If she had an allergic reaction, she would need a shot right away, or else there would be dire consequences.  She said she would provide me with the necessary medicine, just in case.  I reassured her that I would listen carefully and write down everything she told me to do.

When Emily arrived one afternoon with her father, our home was well prepared.  Her father, a kind and peaceful man, brought her pouch of juice, snacks, and medicine, and informed me that she had already eaten.  I asked him if would like to stay, and he said no.  He wanted to walk around Harlem, a place he always wanted to visit. 

Maya and I placed a quilt in the middle of our living room floor with some toys and games for Emily and Maya to play.  I also sat with them a bit to see if they needed anything,  I don’t remember Emily talking an awful lot, but what I do remember the most was feeling her infectious joy.  Also, for me, it felt like we were all somehow communicating, telepathically.  Emily was so happy to be with us, and Maya and I were overjoyed to be in her company and to have her in our home.  The love and joy was so magical that at times it brought me to tears.

I learned so much from Emily and Maya that day.  Because of who they were as little girls, I experienced, for an eternal moment, what it means to be a child entering the kingdom of heaven.

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”

~Tonya Tolson, Diversity Committee Chair