When I was just 3 years old, I went to the beach with my parents. Like other families while at the beach, we went out to search for shells. And that year, I found THE PERFECT SHELL! It was white and had some red hues on the edges. There was not a scratch or a chip on it. And I knew exactly who needed to receive this perfect creation from God. As soon as we got home from our vacation, I dropped my stuff and ran across the street to present my perfect gift to “Ms. Sues.”

“Ms. Sues” was my preschool director, but more than that, she was my friend. Her office sat in the church directly across from my front porch. I could see when she was in and when she wasn’t. I’d wave from my yard when she pulled in the parking lot. I visited her, a lot. “Ms. Sues” was nice. She would spend time with me no matter what she had to get done.

Being a good student, I graduated from preschool. Then my family moved away from the street that Sue and I shared and over the years, we lost touch.

During my sophomore year of college, I felt God call me to ministry. The very first congregation to allow me to serve was the same one where I attended preschool. The only colleague still on staff from when I was little was none other than my old friend Sue. I worked with her throughout the summer and visited her office regularly to say hello. Somewhere toward the end of my summer internship, Sue called me in her office and handed me a gift. It was a small wrapped box with a tiny ribbon bow. After opening it, I found a small delicate shell. It was the same perfect shell that I’d found on the beach years earlier. It was white with red-hued edges, and there was not a chip on it.

Sue reminded me of how 16 years prior, I was so excited to give her this gift. She recalled how I ran across the street and straight into her office. She said that my gift was so special to her that she kept it on her shelf all of these years later to remind her how much more children give to her than she ever gave to them.

The shell now sits in my office as a reminder that all children need a “Ms. Sues” in their life. They need someone to be their constant positive, someone to teach them that they are now and will always be a beloved child of God.

This summer rolled in like a freight train, like it always does. I headed off to camp with group of wonderful children and chaperones. But I had this one kid, this particular one I swore was not enjoying himself. I was doing my best to keep him positive and steer him toward the things I hoped he’d enjoy. It was work. We made it to the end of the week, and out of nowhere, he came barreling toward me with his hand in a tight fist. In a REALLY excited way, he declared, “Hey, Ms. Becky! Ms. Becky!”  I asked him, “Well, what is it, Buddy?” He said, “Thanks for bringing me to camp. I had a great time and I have gift for you!” He pushed the fist toward me, and slowly he opened his fingers one by one.  In the outstretched palm of his hand was a small, perfect, white shell he found while playing with his buddies. I stood there and cried and told him how grateful I was for his precious gift.

Now the tiny shell that he gifted me sits next to the tiny shell that I gave Ms. Sue almost forty years ago. And I promise, one day, I will wrap that baby shell up and give it back to him. I’ll remind him of this story and how special he is to me and the world around him. Because that is what children’s ministry is. We share our small gifts with one another, preparing one another for the joy of ministry for the years ahead.

Becky Caswell-Speight is minister of families, faith formation, and connection at Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.