Once upon a time, there lived a little girl. She had a happy life with her mom and dad, two little sisters, a little brother and a brand-new baby. They lived in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood. Everything was perfect.

It turned out, though that everything was not perfect. All of a sudden, everything seemed wrong. Her Mom and dad began to fight. Then it seemed like they never stopped. One fight would end, and another would begin. It seemed like everything was falling apart. And the little girl began to worry.

Early one morning, after her dad left for work, the little girl’s mom packed bags for everyone and they left. Her mom said that she couldn’t see her dad anymore. Together they moved into a small, unfinished room at her Nana’s house. The little girl felt alone and afraid. And she worried.

As time went by, things settled down a bit. The little girl even got to see her dad again and sometimes would spend the whole weekend with him at their old house. On one of those weekends he took her to do her very favorite thing – skating! She had so much fun that night that she forgot to worry.

Suddenly her dad’s phone rang and as he talked, he looked very concerned. “We have to go. Now!” he said.

As they sped through the traffic the little girl wondered what could be wrong. Then she saw a huge tower of smoke. The closer they got to home the bigger it got – it even touched the clouds.

As her dad screeched to a stop in front of the house, the little girl saw flames engulfing the garage, licking the sides of her home. The little girl hugged her sisters and brother together in the back of the car as the rain began to fall. “Now what?” she wondered. “Where will we go? Where will we live? What about our stuff?” She had so many questions. And the little girl worried.

The little girl’s family found another house to live in, but this one wasn’t so nice, and it wasn’t so big. Worst of all, it was in a different neighborhood, so the little girl would have to go to a different school with different kids.

As the new school year started, the little girl was nervous. It had been a very bad summer and she had so many questions. What will middle school be like? Will I be able to make friends again? Why is all this happening to me? And the little girl worried.

The little girl did make friends, though, and one of them invited her to YOKE. “What’s YOKE?” the little girl wondered with a laugh. But it sounded fun, so she went.

YOKE was fun! She had never seen so many happy people in one place! They sang silly songs and played even sillier games. At the end they talked about a God who knew the little girl and loved her very much. She wanted to know more.

She made lots of friends at YOKE that year, but the very best one was Katie. Katie was a YOKE Folk. She was so pretty and so friendly and she was always smiling. Best of all, she loved the little girl and always made time for her. Katie made the little girl feel special. They could talk about anything and the little girl began to think maybe middle school would be ok after all. Maybe – anything was possible.

Life was still tough. The little girl had a new step-dad and a new step-mom. She still had lots of questions, but she didn’t worry quite so much. Through everything, Katie was always there.

The little girl never missed YOKE. Katie made sure of that. Camp was her favorite, though – she never missed that either. She loved the food – especially those biscuits – and she loved the games and the skits and hanging out with all the YOKE Folk. At camp she felt loved and accepted – like she was part of a really big family. At camp she learned what it really meant to follow Jesus. She made another decision at camp that year – the little girl decided that one day she would be a YOKE Folk, too, just like Katie.

The little girl got older and soon it was time for high school. Everything was changing again, but through all the changes, Katie was there, and so was YOKE. The little girl even began to dream about college. No one in her family had ever gone to college, but Katie believed in her, and her family encouraged her, so why not at least try? So that is what she did.

The little girl chose to attend the University of Tennessee so that she could stay close to home and be a YOKE Folk herself. In fact, she became part of a brand-new team that started YOKE at a brand-new school with lots of brand-new kids.

One of those kids was another little girl named Haley. Haley’s story was different from the little girl’s, but she recognized a lot of herself in Haley. It all felt familiar, but this time SHE was the YOKE Folk helping a YOKE Kid through middle school, just like Katie had done with her all those years ago. “This is the best thing ever!” she thought to herself.

Against all odds, the little girl made it. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a master’s degree in Special Education and that summer, she got her very first job as a teacher – right back in that very same neighborhood in that very same middle school that she first walked into all those years ago. She still had lots of questions, but this time she wasn’t worried at all.

We’ve come to the end of this chapter, but it’s not the end of the story. Not even close! This is one of those special stories that goes on and on, year after year, generation after generation. Who could write such an unbelievable story? Only the person who lived it – me! You see, I am that little girl. And this is my story.

Shared at the 2019 YOKE Banquet
by Kelsey Hiter
Teacher and co-team leader
Whittle Springs Middle School