I finished reading the book Frindle with Jadon and Amelia last night. It’s been a family favorite since my first reading it to Nick and Colton many years ago. I don’t remember shedding any tears the first go around, but this time was different. Last night, I cried with Frindle’s conclusion.
There wasn’t a reason to cry. The book is humorous, well-written, and delightfully entertaining. It finished well. Happy endings. The way I like it. But there was something about that final chapter and the way it ended that ministered to me, pushing my tears downward to drop as wet comfort on the pages I held in my hand. It was a note, written by Mrs. Granger to her bright and challenging fifth-grade student, Nicholas Allen. Nicholas wouldn’t receive that letter until he was a junior in college, even though the note was written in those beginning days of 5th grade.
A lot of history passed between his being a boy at eleven and growing into manhood at twenty-one. That’s really not the focus of the book, but I suppose I brought that meaning to the story. Something about watching a decade pass between my own two generations of kids. Something about reading that book in an earlier season to a fifth grade boy named Nick and a third grade boy named Colton. Something about the growth that’s taken place and the notes that they might one day receive from a teacher or two who took the time to value them and believe in them beyond the challenges they brought to the classroom.
And I started thinking about my teaching years. The ones I spent in a third grade classroom. The ones I’ve spent and continue to spend in other classrooms. Every single place I’ve left a boot print. The words I’ve spoken, the lectures I’ve given, and the actions that speak a witness all their own. After time slips away into history, what letter will remain for the kids I’ve taught, the family I’ve raised, and the friends I’ve loved? A decade or two or ten from now, what of my witness will serve as an encouragement to those who walk behind me?
Perhaps Mrs. Granger says best in her letter to Nick. Perhaps the reason for my tears last night:
“The world has changed in a million ways. That is why I have always tried to teach children something that would be useful no matter what. So many things have gone out of date. But after all these years, words are still important. Words are still needed by everyone. Words are used to think with, to write with, to dream with, to hope and pray with. And that is why I love the dictionary. It endures. It works. And as you now know, it also changes and grows.” (Andrew Clements, Frindle, Aladdin Books, 1996, p. 100)
Oh the power of a well-spoken, well-written, well-lived word! We’ve all got a few left in us. Some more valuable than others, but all them… every last one of them, are writing a story and leaving a witness. Our story. Our witness. Our letter left behind for the world to read as time slips away into history.
Last summer, I wrote a letter to the world about my cancer—some 60,000 words in the span of forty days. They’ve been simmering at a low boil these last six months. Today, I had them bound at Office Depot and shipped them to a dear friend for his assessment. They’re going to print in the near future, and I’m counting on them mattering to someone down the road. In Mrs. Granger’s assessment, some “words to think with, to write with, to dream with, to hope and pray with.”
If that happens—if the words I’ve written causes others to think, write, dream, hope, and pray—then this chapter in my story will have served the kingdom well. To discard them, not include them, not give them to the world as a witness to the strength and healing from Jesus Christ that I’ve experienced, is to finish my race lesser than how God intends.
Some words are meant to breathe. These are some of mine. By God’s grace and in his timing, I will give them to you.
In the meantime, keep writing your stories, friends. Keep living and speaking words of truth to one another in love. Make them count. Words are still important. Words are needed by everyone. As always…
Peace for the journey,