For all those who've ever taught in Vacation Bible School, ending the week utterly fatigued, frazzled and frustrated, this is a story you will want to read.
Lori Trice is now a preacher's wife and the mother of three children in a little bayou town in south Louisiana. She has spoken and sung for women's Bible studies and retreats across the country. Her husband, Brent, is a doctoral student at New Orleans Seminary. But if it hadn't been for a faithful little Vacation Bible School in Lawton, Okla., Trice never would have made it to where she is today.
Born in 1959, Trice was the oldest of two daughters of seemingly perfect parents in a picture-perfect house. Her father, Gene McWilliams, worked at the local newspaper, and her mother worked for the local utility company but went to school at night dreaming of one day being a schoolteacher so she could spend the summers with her daughters.
"Inside that house," Trice said, "even though it was so pretty and nice and neat on the outside, there was a different picture I knew as a member of that family. I knew of fighting, crying, arguing and hurtful words. I didn't always see my parents physically fighting, but I would wake up the next morning to see the evidence of it in the broken glass or the cut on my mom's eye, and I would know what had happened the night before. I realize now that alcohol abuse played a big part in the destruction of our home."
In the midst of this turmoil, Trice was taken by an overburdened babysitter to Vacation Bible School. For the first time, she heard about the love of God. "When they told us we were sinners who couldn't save ourselves, and that God had made a way for a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, and that we could spend eternity with Him in heaven, I knew I wanted that," Trice said. "I embraced the Lord Jesus as much as my little 9-year-old heart could."
She didn't know the impact that decision would have when several years later her parents divorced. "I wanted to leap for joy," Trice said. "I thought this would solve all my unhappy family problems. I wanted a happy home ... but it only made things worse because my dad not only lost his job, but now he'd lost his family, and his world was caving in on him. He would call and threaten suicide or threaten to set our house on fire. My mom or my grandma didn't ever believe him."
But then in October 1971, McWilliams called his ex-wife to tell her this time he had set the house on fire. Trice was in the seventh grade; her sister, Teri, was in the sixth. Their mother picked them up from school, and then picked up a friend "for moral support," Trice said. This friend was expecting her third child and had two little boys of her own.
"As we were coming ... to the house to wait for the fire department," Trice said, "my dad met us on the road in his car with what looked to be a shotgun sticking out his window. He ran us off the road into the ditch, and my mom said, 'Duck, girls!' just before the shotgun blasted through the window, instantly killing my mother's friend."
"My dad stopped his car, got out and looked inside our car. As he saw my mom, who was slumped over, apparently unconscious, I said to him, 'What are you doing? Why are you doing this?'"
"He said to me — and yet more to himself — 'I have to do this. I have to.' He reached in his car and pulled out a gun, put it to my mom's chin, pulled the trigger and killed her. In one quick instant he seemed to come to reality as he looked at the devastation before him, and he said, 'Oh, my God, what have I done?' He put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger, and with one shot he was dead, and fell to the ground."
"I got out of the car and stepped over my dad's body and ran frantically down the road where I met the fire truck. The next thing I remember is sitting in the back of a police car, comforting my 11-year-old sister, telling her I loved her and I knew God would help us."
Trice told the policeman to call her grandmother, but over the radio in the police car came the message: "The grandmother's been shot!" McWilliams, before calling his wife, had gone to his mother-in-law's house, shooting her several times and beating her with his shotgun. But even as Trice heard that message, she still had a peace in her heart that somehow God would make a way for her and her sister.
The grandmother, Francis Richardson, miraculously survived and, along with her husband, adopted and raised the two girls as her own. Through the influence of her grandmother, God led Trice to study music at Oklahoma Baptist University, where she met her husband.
And now Trice tells her story because "I want teachers to look differently this year at those Vacation Bible School kids, and even some of the Sunday school children, that they know are there just because the moms and dads want to get rid of them for awhile."
"Don't think they're not paying attention," she said. "You never know when something you may say or do — a kind word or pat on the shoulder — may make a tremendous difference in a child's life."