I must have been at least five or six years old at the time, riding with my Dad and my great Uncle in the cab of my Dad’s truck, this was before the days of seat belts and child protective seats, I was probably standing in the middle of the seat, it’s a wonder I survived my childhood. I can’t remember where we were going and perhaps that was what prompted me to ask the question; “Where are we going?” At first glance it seems like an innocent enough question, but what I failed to mention was that in the middle of my innocent question I added a not so innocent four-letter word. The word was “Hell” and I wasn’t using it in the Biblical sense. I was using it more in the sense of “Where the hell are we going!” like a drunken sailor looking for the “open all night house of ill repute” sense; I was mature for my age.
My Dad didn’t respond, I think my Uncle laughed, but when we got home my Dad and I had a little talk. You understand, of course, when I say, “talk” neither one of us, said a whole lot. Unless you count belt talking to buttocks, in that case there was a virtual gabfest-taking place, like a politician at a Toastmasters’ convention. It was serious when my Dad and I had those kinds of talks. I can count on one hand the times we had those talks. Now Mom, and me it seemed were talking all the time. But my Dad was an excellent teacher, and on this occasion he taught me not to use that particular four letter word, unless I wanted to end up there, something, it seemed, he would see to personally.
I had a lot of good teachers in my life. In Jr. High I had Coach Davis for all things Physical Education related. Now from my eighth grade perspective this guy was the epitome of athleticism. He was the football coach, the track coach, and the Physical Education and Health teacher. He was Mr. Macho and at fourteen, I was Mr. Not-So. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps it was due to my lightning speed or my massive physic (can you hear the sarcasm?) I was deemed not worthy for athletic endeavors. So Coach Davis selected me to be the track manager. If you are wondering what exactly a track manager does well let me tell you. As track manager I managed to bring all the athletes water when they needed a drink, I managed to load and unload the bus, and I managed to do whatever Coach Davis told me to do. Coach Davis taught me to be dependable, on time, and that no task was unimportant.
Somewhere around this time I joined the 4-H club, I used to remember what the four H’s stood for, but no longer. What I do remember is that in 4-H each member was responsible for developing a certain skill and mine was to be public speaking. The time came for me to demonstrate this skill, and I worked really hard on preparing my speech. I quoted Ronald Reagan, took a hard-line stance against abortion and lamented the burden of high taxes and large government on the middle class. I was a great young republican. Of course this freaked my Dad out, who was a die-hard democrat, so much so that he once expressed his anxiety that if Teddy Kennedy was the nominee, he would have to vote for him. But I digress, my speech was prepared, I had a great introduction, a substantive body, and a strong conclusion; I was ready to wow the 4-H constituency with my oratorical talents. One problem, when the time came to deliver my speech, I experienced what Americans cite as their number one fear, and a big problem for anyone with aspirations of public speaking greatness, the fear of public speaking. I was very good at the preparation part and did a great job delivering my speech, to the mirror, it was other people, commonly referred to as an audience that I was having trouble with. The time arrived and my mother and I got in the car to travel to the great hall for me to make my debut as the world’s greatest orator, a virtual Cicero, it was about this time that Cicero developed laryngitis. I could not, I would not speak, and I told my mother so.
Now normally I would not describe my mother as a tenacious woman, but for some reason, on this particular day she grew a pair. Perhaps she had heard me practicing, maybe she sensed that I had some talent or maybe she just wasn’t going to drive all the way to town only to disappoint my audience that was awaiting my speech. So finally after a few circles around the parking lot, I knew there was no backing out I would have to face my speaker apprehension and boldly deliver the speech of a lifetime. Looking back I really owe my mother a great deal, especially for this, she forced me to discover the one thing, at least the one big thing in life that I’m really good at, speaking. Turns out I can talk the paint off a fence post. I learned this the day my mother taught me to face my fear, open my mouth and speak. I conquered my fear, my mother was proud, and my audience was blown away, I know this because they told me so, all four of them.
I’ve been blessed with a lot of good teachers in my life. Someone once said the best time to plant an oak tree is one hundred and twenty years ago, the next best time is today. This is a great description of teaching; it is the planting of seeds that will one day produce a great harvest. Jesus called the Holy Spirit a teacher in John chapter fourteen. Perhaps of all the teachers I’ve had the Holy Spirit has been the most effective, because the Spirit continues to teach me on a daily basis and unlike earthly teachers never turns out to be wrong or mistaken. The Holy Spirit is always current, well read, thoroughly prepared and never boring. Each day is an adventure in learning and growing. My Dad, Mom, and Coach Davis, taught me well. The Holy Spirit will one day deliver me to my final exam, and according to God’s word the grade will be well done.