"Mrs. Jane? Is that you?" the pretty young stranger in line behind me asked as she picked up the shampoo bottle I'd dropped in the floor.

"I'm sorry, should I know you?" I replied, embarrassed not to recognize her face, much less know her name.

"I'm Donna Hightower. You were my teacher in Sunday School, back in the 4th grade," she said with knowing eyes and a bright smile. "I was the shy kid with the ponytail back in 1988."

My mind traveled what seemed like light years back to that little classroom in the north wing of the Baptist church I attended. Up the stairs, last room on the left. 

Donna Hightower. Shy kid, ponytail. As my mind bounds through the door of time, a 9-year-old Donna sits there at the end of the table, her legs too short to reach the ground, her feet wrapped around the legs of her chair. She doesn't look up at the teacher, at me, during the lesson, or act even remotely interested in singing any of the songs we sing. She rarely speaks, even to the friendly girls at the table who try to include her with "Did you have fun at your grandmother's house?" or "Your dress is very pretty."

The memories fly by. Early on, I had learned that little Donna's mother was single, raising two small children alone. Her father had left when Donna was still a baby, never to be heard from again. Her mother worked two jobs, leaving the kids at daycare. Her clothes weren't always stylish and her hair wasn't always clean. And although I never knew for sure, I'd guessed that she spent a lot of time alone.

When I taught Sunday school, I prayed for each student in my class throughout the week. I prayed for their protection and for God's blessing on their lives. I prayed for their skinned knees and sick pets and for all the prayer requests they would share Sunday after endless Sunday.  But I remember praying especially for Donna, whose eyes rarely met mine, whose voice was rarely heard, who sat quietly, passively in the same chair every time her mom could manage to bring her to church.

By the time she was in the 6th grade, they had moved on, if not to another city, at least another church. I never really knew why.

So as I stood there in the check out line, I was shocked to see her. Sweet, painfully shy, Donna Hightower, a vibrant, successful 24-year-old woman with a radiant smile and a wriggling toddler in her shopping cart.

"Donna! I can hardly believe it's you!" I exclaimed, dropping the shampoo bottle again. "I always wondered what became of you and your family."

She told me briefly about her mother's passing, raising her brother and paying her way through college, marrying a wonderful Christian man and raising a baby. Then as my groceries were bagged, and without a moment's reservation, she very purposefully said, "Mrs. Jane, I always hoped that I'd run into you one day because I wanted you to know that I turned out okay. Because you were there in the early days, I wanted you to see that God answered your prayers regarding me. I was a very sad, shy child, but God used you to show me how much He loves me. It took several years to really believe it, but once I got it, I really got it."

With the grocery bags on the seat beside me, I wept for the joy of long-forgotten, but answered prayers. And I was amazed and grateful for the reminder that God never loses track of his children. He never tires of gathering them up and taking them home.

"Lord, your love reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your goodness is as high as the mountains; your justice is as deep as the great ocean." -Psalm 36:5-6 (CRV)

Jane Carlton is a retired teacher living in St. Petersburg, Florida.