Monday, June 10, 2013

#TellHisStory: Well-Chosen Words

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
I Peter 4:10

That moment when you've tried your best at something you really care about and you can't go another step without sharing it with someone.  So you handpick that certain someone and show them what you've done.  You wait increasingly impatiently until the whisper inside your head has become such a roar that you can't possibly hold it in anymore.  Well...?  You say, as calmly and in the most normal voice you can muster, but you know that if you have to ask then it isn't good at all.  Not nearly what you'd hoped and your heart sinks inside your chest and you do everything you can do to keep your face from falling, to keep from showing that handpicked someone how much you just wanted to hear Wonderful, Amazing, Better than good.  This is what you were born to do.  It's a gift.  Those simple words would be the best gift you could hope for - the one that says well done, it was worth the effort, it was worth the feeling of nakedness, of exposure - sharing that part of yourself that's most important, that you care so very much about - the most precious, intimate part of who you are.

I am a writer.  I thought I was a writer years ago, before college, but taking a college class early threw me off.  No freedom - stick to the basics.  I didn't know those basics well enough to use them to my advantage.  Words of encouragement from my high school professor helped - This writing doesn't even look like your work, he said, shaking his head.  You can do better than this.

He gave us an assignment - I don't even remember what, except that it's on the back of a note he wrote to me... a note I still have.

It's about 5:00 pm, and I'm rather tired of correcting papers.  After reading this mess, I felt a closeness with Ms Janet, and decided to stop correcting papers and speak awhile to her.

There may have been times in the recent past where I spoke or dealt harshly with you -- if you don't remember them you were fortunate enough not to receive a bit of the distaste that I've felt for you in the recent past.  For it's true, I have been rather disappointed with you as a student occasionally, not as a human being, for I've got more respect for you as a human being than most of the rest of my students.  But as a student, Janet, I've not been terribly excited about your behavior.  It seems to me that Janet is a really intelligent, perceptive, high-strung, emotional woman, very sensitive to the world around her, yet full of dodging shrouds and veils which are constructed or worn to hide that reality.  In short, Janet doesn't want to be Janet, she really wants to be "high-school heroine," immature, swaggering, adolescent.  You're unwilling really to be the mature, bright kid you know you are; you'd rather be "one of the gang."

That, of course, isn't "all bad."  But the possibility exists that some potential growth may be stunted as a result of the mask.  And any stunting to someone with the wealth of potential you have is not only destructive to you, I believe, but to me as well, and, strangely enough, the world around you.

Don't misunderstand me, Janet, there's been nothing in your behavior to make me feel you're a delinquent, and you haven't upset me at all with any antics.  What bothers me is the pattern, the mold you seem to take from those around you, while I see in your writing, a powerful mind whose intelligence and maturity transcend the greatest efforts of you peers.  That Jekyll & Hyde business is tough to play, an there are times that I think I see the sweet-sour face of the proverbial "crying clown."  And that's sad, from my point of view, for two reasons.
One, it's not good for you.  As you continue to modulate between two self-appointed roles, your real self becomes more vague, your class image more distinct.  That's a loss.
Two, it's not good for others, for they could be profiting from your leadership in other ways, other ways far more meaningful and important to them as individuals.
In my years of teaching, I've not had too many students as bright as Janet, but that very limited number I've not had any that try to hide their brilliance quite as much as you do.

You are to be the recipient of this year's award for best English student, Janet, because you are, with little doubt, my best student.  But you aren't even as good as you could be, because you refuse to acknowledge your own intelligence and maturity.

In the very near future, you'll find the real happiness that you sometimes now feign.  If you don't know now what all of this means, you'll certainly know then.

It's been a pleasure having you as a student Janet, and I hope someday to read your articles in English Journal, or some such rubbish!  Best wishes to someone whose future is as open as the Arizona sky.


He cared, didn't he?  He wrote this on the back of an assignment I hadn't finished.  It was a tough read - encouraging, convicting.  I didn't believe him, back then, so many years ago.  I didn't think I was wearing masks and veils.  I didn't think I was hiding anyone - and of course I wanted to have friends...  I didn't believe the parts that said brilliant, powerful mind, best, intelligent.  But I wanted to keep those parts; I wanted them to be true.  I wanted to be special; but I didn't believe I was.

A lot of other things came between me and writing since this oh-my-goodness-it's-been-almost-forty-years-since-high-school note.  Other careers.  Other encouragers, other influences.  A lot of successes.  Some disappointments.  Maturity.

I am a writer.  Writing isn't something you do - it's someone you are.  It is my passion; it is my trial.  Yes, I still want to hear well done - I still wait impatiently for reaction - I still feel exposed.  Words.  They mean so much.  Encouraging words, discouraging words.  I was the fortunate recipient of well-chosen words.  I think about that note when I go into my classroom - with my students, when I'm with my friends, when I talk to family - even when I write to the unknown and faceless.

Writing is a part of who I am.  It took years for me to fully understand what this man was saying.  It took years to connect all of the dots - the dots he drew by taking his time, his thoughts, his carefully crafted words.  He used his own gift, to try to help me with mine.  I am ready to own the writer inside, but with ownership comes responsibility.  I owe a lot to my high school teacher - this man who went on to teach at a small Christian College - who retired just last year - whose well-chosen words I still look forward to reading.  He made a difference - even years later.

Heavenly Father, thank you.  You always know exactly what we need - when we need it.  Sometimes it takes the form of a note on the back of a high-school assignment.  Help us to use our gifts to glorify You - help us to be positive and encouraging.  Help us to choose our words well.

Linking With Jennifer at TellHisStory


  1. You are a very intelligent person, Janet, and such a beautiful writer. I love that you are using this talent to bring glory to God! I hope your teacher gets to read your blog!

  2. Amanda, he did read this one. I felt I couldn't send it out without his say-so, especially since the majority of the post was actually his words. Thank you for your encouraging comments.


I know we probably haven't met in person, but I believe that the sharing of our ideas and thoughts, sometimes our hearts and souls, makes us more than strangers. I would like to say friends. Thank you for taking the time to contribute to my little space - I appreciate you.