This was presented to a group of students and teachers as I surprised my Jr. High English teacher by honoring him after almost four decades.
Almost two years ago, God placed a burden on my heart to write a book. It was an undeniable calling, yet I had no idea what I was to write about. Oh, I had concepts and storylines, but what I did not realize is God wasn’t asking me to write a story, He was calling me to deliver a message. It became apparent in my attempt to write I did not have a clear vision of what I was being called to do. I specifically remember the moment I held my hands up to God and said, “My talents are yours and I am willing - when you show me what I am to write about, I will write.”
Months passed. One day I was informally sharing my family’s story with a support group. Both of my parents, as well as my Grandma, are victims of Alzheimer’s disease. Grandma and Mom lost their lives to this terminal illness and Dad is now on Hospice. I have been my father’s caregiver and advocate for twelve long years now. As I looked out over the tear-filled eyes of my audience that day, I knew God was calling me to encourage others facing this disease. I committed my talents to Him and began writing Stone Benches that afternoon.
Within each of us are God-given talents. They are not only a gift, but our talents are also a responsibility. We are charged with the task of discovering what these talents are, then refining and perfecting them through diligent study and practice. But it goes beyond this. We must seek God in order to know what He is calling us to do, and then have the faith and confidence to carry out His plans. I have enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. God placed this talent in me, but dedicated teachers helped me perfect the skill.
I had one English teacher, in particular, who not only gave me the tools and knowledge necessary to write well, but also inspired and motivated me. This teacher held contests and challenged me to be the best writer I could possibly be. However, the gift did not stop there. It was in this classroom I received more than the skills and motivation to write; I was imparted the confidence to use my talent and share it with others.
An inspiring teacher has the opportunity to bring talents to life. It is a legacy that has far reaching effects. Because of my love for writing, my daughters have become gifted writers and two have become teachers. They are using their God-given talents and blessing the world with them, literally! Our talents are not meant to be hidden - God’s plans are so much bigger than our own. This past year as I wrote, I became acutely aware of the gift I have been given.
If it had not been for this particular teacher, I would have never considered anything I wrote to be worth sharing. I prayed to be given the opportunity to tell my teacher how much this gift has meant to me and so many others. Stone Benches was nominated for the 2016 National Book Awards, an incredible honor. However, I’ve always cherished, and am equally as proud of, the fact I won my teacher’s Best Writing Contest in 9th grade.
A teacher who invested in me decades ago is responsible for giving me the confidence to write a book, which in turn has encouraged countless people facing this disease. The message Stone Benches holds has been placed in the hands of our Nation’s leaders, which played a part in motivating them to support important Alzheimer’s bills. Subsequently, additional funding was secured for research so a cure can be found.
Stone Benches is a catalyst which is making a difference in the world and delivering God’s message of hope. Knowledge perfects talent, motivation is imparted to move it forward, and if we are fortunate enough, someone invests in us and gives us the confidence to pursue God’s calling on our lives. I think it is only fitting that God also used the book I wrote as the means for me to find this special teacher.
Last month I was asked to speak at an Oklahoma Hospitality Club luncheon; this is a group of lovely ladies who are making a difference in our community. Ironically, that evening, two of these ladies were guests at the same wedding my husband and I attended. They recognized me as their speaker and as we began to visit, I discovered one had been a teacher at my high school. We reminisced about the people we had known. I mentioned that I would love to find my English teacher and let this individual know what a gift their investment in me has been.
And the final dot was connected, which leads me here today. I contacted the English teacher my daughter credits with imparting these gifts to her and relayed this story. I had finally found this teacher, right here at my daughter’s alma mater. I delivered God’s message, and now He is graciously allowing me to deliver my own. Dr. Baker, would you join me on stage?
A few decades ago, your students fondly referred to you as Coach Baker. You were my English teacher in 9th grade. I’m sure you remember- I won “Baker’s Best Writing Contest” We were to write to a fictional persuasive letter. I mailed my letter to the Mars Company letting them know I served my fifteen grandchildren their candy every time they visited. A few weeks later, a huge box of M&M’s and other snacks arrived on my doorstep! Students, don’t try this at home… I still carry an element of guilt over eating the entire box of candy myself.
The next year, I moved on to high school. Imagine my shock and delight, of course, when I picked up my schedule to discover you had followed me. You were my English teacher again my Sophomore year. I was never sure if you just couldn’t part with such a great student or if you thought my writing skills needed more work! You taught me alot. Just kidding, I know alot is not a word.
I did not, however, know this when you returned a paper with numerous red circles, noting my incessant use of this nonexistent word. Back in the day, we had big brown books, called dictionaries, which we used to look up words. Each time we questioned the spelling or meaning of a word, we were instructed to look it up in this book. I specifically remember my shock when I looked up alot and discovered you were right! Thanks to you, I know a lot is actually two words and refers exclusively to a parcel of land.
I brought you something very special - my grade sheet, as proof I was a pretty good student. Remember how you made us figure our own grades? It looks like I struggled a bit. The entire class would protest, saying “This is not Math class, we shouldn’t have to do Math in here!”
I would also like to present you a signed copy of Stone Benches. After edits are made, the publisher sends a copy of the book to proof. I thought it was only appropriate to present this copy to you - as I’m sure you will catch a mistake or two the editors missed! You will not, however, find a single occurrence of alot.
Dr. Baker, after almost four decades, it is a joy and an honor to have the opportunity to deliver this message to you. Thank you for investing in me - you made a difference in my life!