This past summer I was talking with one of my older friends from my hometown. In our conversation I discovered that she knew my 9th grade English teacher, Dan Johnson. My friend, Emadene, had taught school with Mr. Johnson’s wife and had nothing but good to say about the man. Likewise, when I think back to the year that I was in his class I have plenty of encouraging memories of my teacher. That year was truly an illustration of God moving in ways we don’t understand? Mr. Johnson was indeed a providential piece of the total equation for the man I am today.
I actually didn’t start out my freshman year in his class. The preceding spring, my 8th grade English teacher recommended my taking advanced English so I was signed up for the 9th grade upper level course. I was excited to be in a class with all the smart kids instead of my assumed ADHD remedial atmosphere. The problem though was that at my present level I couldn’t keep up with the academic dryness of these students or a teacher who seemed to have little patience for kids like me. So I was moved out into a regular classroom. I was bummed.
But it was there, in Mr. Johnson’s classroom, where I excelled. There was something different about this guy and I finally learned in my conversation with Emadene that much of it had to do with his faith. For him, teaching English to a bunch of someone else’s kids was more than a job. It was his calling. He really taught pieces of life. He was an illustration of that whole, created for a purpose principle. One funny note is that I can still conjugate the verb, To Be in all six tenses after learning to do so from Mr. Johnson. Who in the world knows how to conjugate the verb To Be anyway much less some 30 plus years later? I bet none of the kids in the snooty advanced English class can still do that. But I also discovered that I could write and that my imagination was a good thing. That my creativity was a noble thing.
During the last quarter of the year we had weekly or bi-weekly creative writing assignments due and at best, I kept getting an A- on them. So finally I asked; “Mr. Johnson, what do I have to do to get an “A” from you?” He told me that I needed more figurative language in the stories that I was churning out. He told me what I needed to do and I did it. My last writing project for Mr. Johnson’s class was a pictures paper about my being the hero in a Vietnam War saga where I saved the day. I got an A+ on the paper and the class liked it so much, we had to read our papers out loud, that one guy excitedly made me a figure in his adventure story that he wrote.
At the end of the year I asked Mr. Johnson, no, I think it was Mr. Johnson who asked me, if he could sign my freshman annual. Later when I read his inscription, I saw the words, “To the future Dr., Lawyer, Professor, or Statesman.” Wow. How do you put a price on something like that? Here was a respected man who truly believed that I had potential and told me so.
I always wanted to get back to Mr. Johnson after I graduated from Bible College and let him know he had forgotten to mention, preacher, in his list of potential options he believed I could pursue. I never did. Emadene told me that Mr. Johnson died a number of years ago and it struck me how important our words can be for generations to come.
I was also reminded of the importance of taking action while it’s still today as you don’t know how long people have. In the same vein of thinking, there is also the reality of not knowing how long we ourselves have. I missed out on connecting with Mr. Johnson because I felt like I’d eventually get around to it. But I was too late. However, it’s wasn’t too late to think more about what I was doing and saying today.
I don’t know that we really comprehend the power of our words and encouragement. Negative words can pull a person down into a pit of despair while the right words can encourage a kid to be a positive conqueror for good in years to come.
In thinking about those around me today, I’m reminded of a little boy who lives in our neighborhood, though he’s not very little anymore. He didn’t have much positive God talk in his life so I tried to encourage him when I could. One day we were in the front yard talking about whatever 2nd graders talk about when conversation turned to hero talk. At that point I gave him a 30 second rundown of David and Goliath from the Bible and then concluded with a statement that went something along the lines of, “and you know; one day you’ll be a brave man of God just like King David was.” I don’t know how much the young boy took in that day, but I hope that in the future this will come back to him and he’ll remember my words and be encouraged.
Yes, words are important. More than we know. I find it terribly interesting that in John 1:1-14 the apostle refers to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God in the flesh, as being . . . The Word! He opened his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Who are you encouraging today with your words?