Like Those Who Dream: Chapter 8, English Lessons
-Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow
Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
My family had moved several times when I was growing up. When my mom and dad separated, and then divorced, my mom moved more often. Some of those moves meant a change in schools. One of those changes put me behind in my grade level and from that point on I felt I was always trying to catch up in school. I was not a great student. It was not a problem of intelligence, but a problem of indifference that kept me from doing well. My interests were in things outside of school and it was hard for me to keep motivated in my studies.
After her divorce, my mom needed to find a job. From the time I was nine, until I left home at eighteen to join the army, my mom worked fulltime. When I got into my teen-years I was pretty much on my own. With my dad gone and my mom working, I grew up without a lot of rules, restraints or discipline. This carried over into my school life. As I grew older I viewed school, not as something to benefit me, but as something to get through; something that was in the way of what really interested me—sports, friends, parties, and more sports. My main interest in high school was the football program (even though I was small compared to most of the kids who went out for football, I was quicker than most, and made the starting team all three years).
Because of my failure to study and prepare well for tests, I would often cheat. I cheated because I felt it was more important to pass a test than to learn about the subject. I became quite good at doing something bad. Often, I would write down answers on my palms with an ink-pen. It worked well if I could keep my palms from sweating. Sometimes I would copy my classmate’s answers, if they would let me peek.
Math and English were my worst subjects. Once, during a spelling test, I placed the list of spelling words around the spine of a book that was sitting on the teacher’s desk. My chair was in the front row, directly across from the desk. Each time the teacher read out a word for us to spell I would look at the spine of the book in front of me and write down the correct spelling (If I had spent as much time studying as I did trying to figure out ways to cheat, I would have made the honor roll.)
My worst experience in English came in the tenth grade. The course was based upon the foundations that were taught the previous year in a ninth grade class—a class I didn’t attend. I was not prepared. Sentence diagramming was a big part of our studies, and I was bewildered most of the time. By the end of the school year I received my just reward, an “F”…It was the only class I ever flunked. The next year I had to take the class over, and somehow I managed to pass. By my senior year I was sick of English. I hated everything about it and couldn’t wait to graduate and be done with it. To my horror, when I joined the military after high school, I was placed in an Ordnance Unit. I was given the job of Clerk Typist. As part of my training for this job the Army put me through sixty more hours of English!
When I left the Army and decided to go to Valley College, I was asked by the school to take an entrance exam. One of the purposes for the exam was to see where my skill level was in English. Based on my score, I would be placed in either an advanced English class or a dumbbell English class (I knew where I belonged without a test).
When the time came for school to begin I discovered the school had somehow lost my entrance test results. Rather than have me retake the test, they decided to give me my brother’s scores (My brother, Don, was a journalism major. He was a great writer and excelled in English.)
“Just great!” I thought. Instead of dumbbell English, where I should have been, I was placed in an advanced, creative writing class. I was way out of my league! That semester the class was assigned fifteen papers to write on various themes. I followed the assignments and turned in every paper. It didn’t matter what the theme was, or how hard I tried, I always received the same grade, a “D-”.
“I would flunk you,” the teacher said, “but since you turn in your work, I will give you a “D-“. I am sorry, but you cannot write at a college level.”
“Hooray!” I thought. I am done and out of here. I do not want to ever take another writing class or English class. In less than a year, I was once again a new student, but this time at Bethany Fellowship, in Minneapolis. I had come to study the Bible, but to my great surprise, English was part of the curriculum and a requirement for every student.
The English teacher I had during my first year at Bethany was pleasant, kind, and understandable. I felt that for the first time I was actually “getting it”. By the end of that semester, English was a shining star on my report card. During my second year a new English teacher joined the staff. Her name was Marjorie Reading (a fitting name for an English teacher). She had transferred from a school in Canada that had more rules than Bethany. Many of the students wondered what class would be like with her as a teacher. She wore dark clothes and pulled her naturally gray-streaked black hair straight back in a bun. She wore thin-rimmed glasses, and kept a stern expression on her face a good deal of the time.
I thank God for Miss Reading! From the first moment I sat in her class I liked her. Behind her hard looking exterior beat a heart of love. She loved English and her students. She cared about our studies, but most of all she cared about our calling to follow Jesus Christ. Because of her sensitivity to the Lord, God used her to help start a deep work of the Holy Spirit on campus. It started during her first hour English class. She entered the room a few moments after we were all seated. Sensing the presence of the Lord, she opened the class in prayer and then waited. Soon a student stood up and confessed to the class that she had cheated on a test. In tears, she told everyone how sorry she was. Following the student’s confession, other students began to share personal struggles and sins. The Holy Spirit moved in convicting power across the room. Miss Reading remained sensitive to the Spirit’s moving. She didn’t want to quench what God was doing and allowed students to share for the entire class time. The move of God in our class went on for hours and impacted many lives.
During one of my English classes with Miss Reading, I was to experience a whole new dimension in writing. “Your homework for tonight is to write a one-page story about any topic you wish,” she said before dismissing us. The next time we met she had each of us read our papers…
“Your homework for tonight is to retell, in a paragraph, the one-page story you read at class yesterday.”
I found the homework assignment energizing! It was a challenge that I gladly responded to with eagerness. After we shared our work in class we got our next homework assignment…
“This time I would like you to tell your paragraph in a sentence.”
Once again, I loved the challenge and was the recipient of praise and encouragement from Miss Reading when I shared my work in class. At that time, I had no concept of how God was preparing me to bring His heart to others through concise, simply written devotional thoughts.
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