How many dear friends do you have because your paths crossed as educators? In my opinion, this is one of the biggest blessings of being an educator. We meet precious people along the way! This is the story of one such friendship, an encounter that changed my life. Lori Hembree and I met in my first year of teaching and grew as friends and prayer partners for the next 30 years. Unfortunately for me and others, her fight against an aggressive cancer brought our time together here on earth to an end in 2022.
Lori had a calling on her life to be a teacher. She was a difference maker in the lives of students, families, and colleagues. Everyone in her building was impacted by who she was. Lori has left a wonderful legacy, and I have determined her story is one worth sharing.
Lori’s life as a victorious educator is not only inspirational but also challenging! Many years ago she gave me a book entitled, Molder of Dreams. In the front of the book, she wrote the message noted below, a message she embraced herself.
“An affirming book of hope and dreams. Molder of Dreams echoes within each of us the wonder of
how deeply we affect others, sometimes without realizing it.”
The author, Guy Doud, states, “We each shape the hearts and lives of our loved ones—for better or worse.” It seems Lori never forgot this. I want to share more about Lori’s consistent message as an educator with you. As you read, think about the descriptions. Compare and contrast your own life’s message. May you be inspired and challenged as you read about how Lori beautifully shaped hearts and lives as a teacher and colleague.
A message of quality and work ethic.
Sharon Chesler Murphy, one of our active Victorious Educator Ministry members, had the unique opportunity to work with Lori for 8 years (next door for 3 and team-taught for 5). Sharon describes working with Lori as “the best professional learning in 35 years!” Lori was a master teacher who intuitively did things we train teachers to do. She brought in motions, songs, and sign language. She did whatever it took to make learning stick for her students. Lori made teaching and learning fun!
In all the years they worked together Sharon says she never heard Lori use a harsh word in anger. Rather, Lori consistently gave grace to others, and she displayed a perfect balance of firmness and kindness in her interactions with students. I’m sure if we were to interview former students, they would mention the special activities they did and the love they felt. Lori didn’t settle for “good enough” in her work because she did it as unto the Lord and wanted to give her best.
A message of love and compassion.
A young man and former student (now in his 30’s) recalled a time when Lori took his small hands in hers and prayed with him when he was having a particularly rough day. It is a memory he has never forgotten.
Mr. Nickel, one of Lori’s principals, saw how the seeds she planted impacted some of the school’s most difficult students. He immediately recalled the full name of one she had won over with love.
Mrs. Harber, another principal, told me, “She’s one of those teachers I just loved! She had a quiet, gentle spirit. She was calm and showed love to all around her.”
Cindy McMeley, who taught for 9 years with Lori, also experienced her gentle and calm nature firsthand. She described Lori as someone who emitted God’s love and light in every word and action.
A message of care and concern.
Sarah Logan was a brand-new teacher. Lori came to welcome her. When Lori saw her setting up her classroom, she said, “Let’s just pray right now!” Sarah claims, “I know that her prayer over my classroom made a difference for my students and me!”
When Ann Bailey was considering moving from being a special education teacher to a Reading Recovery Specialist, Lori was a great cheerleader. Ann says, “Lori was so encouraging to me, so positive, so cheerful. She was empathetic, and caring!” Ann also noted, “When had lunch together, she would pray. It helped me feel that we weren't out there on our own.”
A message of joy.
Alma Wilson is a colleague who often had lunch with Lori. She wrote, “Lori and I had the same lunchtime at school. She was ALWAYS in a cheerful mood. She always talked about her beloved daughter, her beloved husband, and her precious students. Never did anyone hear a cross word or a complaint from her. Instead, she would often share about how blessed she was for her family and her students. I had great admiration for this attitude. We were all hard-working teachers with families at home, and we all had stress in our lives. You wouldn’t have known that Lori had any stress at all. She gave it to God with a prayer and a smile.”
This description of Lori reminds me of an acrostic for JOY I learned as a child.
J Jesus first.
O Others second.
Y Yourself last.
This is a perfect description of Lori. She had true joy! Philippians 2:3-5 says, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with each other, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. I had the privilege of watching Lori pull this off daily!
As I was praying about what to say when asked to speak at Lori’s funeral about her role as a teacher and colleague, it occurred to me that she wouldn’t want me to honor her. She would want me to honor God! I chose some Scriptures that display Lori’s life as she reflected Christ in our public schools.
He has shown you O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:7
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35
Lori acted justly with students, parents, and colleagues. She loved mercy, and she walked humbly with God. As she walked with God, her life bore fruit; she focused on the good and rejoiced joyfully, and she consistently showed love. This is what being a victorious educator is all about!
As a Christ-follower, we know Lori is worshiping her Savior face-to-face after being a good and faithful servant. We give God the glory for all He did through Lori to deeply affect others shaping hearts and lives for the better!
This short story is Lori’s story, her legacy. What is yours? If someone were to interview your supervisors, colleagues, and former students, would they hear messages of quality, love, compassion, care, concern, and joy? Would they describe you as selfless? Would they mention your willingness to pray? These are such important behaviors that show the love of Christ to those with whom we interact. Just like God worked through Lori, He can work through you and me. Remember, “We each shape the hearts & lives of our loved ones—for better or worse.”
As I end this reflection on Lori’s influence as a victorious educator, I am reminded of how she insisted on thinking and speaking good things. I’d like you to imagine her saying to us some words that come from Paul’s instructions to the Philippians.
Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (4:8-9)
I pray Lori’s legacy will inspire you! If you find it challenging, that’s okay, too! Each day is a new day, a new opportunity to let our light shine in our workplaces. Students and colleagues are watching us. May her legacy live through us as we create our own legacy as victorious educators!