The Positive Power of a Mentor

Dr. Walter Fremont, the late educator who motivated me for my teaching career, once said during a class lecture that no one should write a book until he was at least 50 years old. He opined that until one reached that chronological age he had not lived or learned enough to write an authoritative book.

His life’s ministry was sharing with others, especially aspiring teachers, the wisdom and knowledge that he had gained so that they could, in turn, minister to still others. He exuded a positive attitude, a can-do spirit that was infectious. And that was what first-year (and even veteran) teachers needed even more than they needed materials and methods and curriculum development classes. It was what would keep many of them going when they had reached the point at which they were ready to give up and change careers.

True to his own stated belief, Dr. Fremont’s first published book came when he was 56 years old. He went on to write four more books, and they all dealt in some way with education and family living.

When Dr. Fremont was 62 and seemingly at the apex of his phenomenal and inspiring career, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease). Doctors gave him two to five years to live. But they didn’t know Dr. Fremont or the God he served.

Dr. Fremont continued to serve as dean of a university school of education for four years. Then he continued teaching for another year. He finally retired, but not to rust. Not Dr. Fremont. Not Dr. Positive Faith Attitude. No, he spent the next fifteen years working from a hospital room, authoring four more books between 1986 and 2002. In 2007, he finally succumbed to the disease that the doctors had thought would take him in two to five years. His God gave him 82 years during which to serve Him. And right up until the end, his life continued to bless and teach others. His life is proof of Jesse Stuart’s assertion that a teacher is immortal, living on for years through his or her students. And I was blessed to be one of Dr. Fremont’s students.

I was perhaps a slow learner in school, and I didn’t publish my first book (I’m trying to be positive by using that phrase “first book” and to assume that I will have others someday!) until I was beyond Dr. Fremont’s 50-years-old cutoff point and past even his own 56 by several years. But once published, I was inspired and motivated to keep writing. In fact, I have several books in the works. Whenever I get stuck or bogged down with one, I can turn to another, so that I always have something to work on.

But sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get beyond that one book. Can I do it again? By nature a melancholy person, I begin to doubt. But then I think of Dr. Fremont and how his most productive publishing years came after the doctors had essentially written him off. But God was not finished with him, and his work continues to influence people for good.

I don’t know how many years I have remaining in which to write. Who does? I might go in my sleep some night. Or my time might come in an accident on my way to pick up my son-in-law at the airport this very night. Or at some unknown (to me) future date to a dread disease–heart attack, cancer, whatever. That makes me want to live and work today as though it were my last. I want to do what I can with the time I have. And I pray that, like Dr. Fremont, I might have been able in the process to be a blessing to someone else.

May this be the prayer of each one of us. May we be faithful in the work we have while it is called today. May we be ready when we are called home to give an account of our life and be able to do so with joy. Until then, let’s keep serving!

Advertisements

How Many Words Are Left?

The other morning, while I was toiling through my regular routine on the treadmill and struggling with arthritis-pained knees, toes, and wrists, I found myself looking at the bookcase on the opposite wall. There, on the top shelf, were several anthologies and other books that include some of my own writings.

That set me to thinking of how many articles I’ve written. Those thoughts made me realize that I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words over the years since the first article I ever submitted was published back in 1981. One thought led to another.

Behind me, I remembered the huge notebook filled with tear sheets of my published articles. (I say remembered because I didn’t turn to look at it. I once learned a painful lesson about trying to turn around and run backwards on a moving treadmill, and I’m not fool enough to repeat that session!)

As I continued my morning run, warm (very warm!) and dry on a cool, rainy day, I wondered how many words I still have in me. Because we are each given a set amount of time in this life, and, knowing that we, like David, should pray that God would “teach us to number our days” (Psa. 90:12), it seems only natural that we should also ask Him to teach us to calculate our production in whatever our field of service might be. In my own case, it was first in teaching and now in writing and editing. So I wonder how many more words I have left in me to write.

Do I have another book left in me? Perhaps a couple? None? How many more articles are in me?

The question is not how many more writing ideas I have left in me. Those are a dime a dozen; they’re in every direction I look and in everything I read, see, and do. (And even if my idea well did happen to run dry, myriad people are more than happy to volunteer their ideas that they think I should write about!) The issue is how many of my ┬áideas I will actually be able to express in words fit for public consumption. Correction: it’s actually how many of those words will editors find acceptable to share with their readers. Without editors willing to buy and publish my words, no number of written words will amount to anything. To make a difference, there must be willing editors and willing readers. And that is the rub.

My mind was racing faster than my feet. The pace of the treadmill decreased, but the incline increased dramatically. As I huffed, puffed, and perspired, I asked myself the next logical questions: What will my last written words be? And will anything I’ve written have made any difference?

I know how I read. Whenever I pick up a magazine or newspaper, I skim and scan. Seeing an interesting title or headline, I might read the lead paragraph. If my attention is not immediately arrested, however, I move on to something else. I don’t have time to waste. As the librarian’s t-shirt read, “So many books, so little time.”

I probably read more than the average person, but I rarely read a complete article unless it really grabs me. If it does, I might even print or photocopy it for possible later use.

But most readers skim and scan even more loosely than I do. And we all forget so quickly. Someone once said that yesterday’s newspaper is good only for wrapping fish or lining a birdcage. Today, we don’t even wrap fish in newspaper, so its value is even less.

Can you name even one article that has made a lasting difference in your life? On the spur of the moment, I can think of only one, an article titled “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (about how we allow urgent demands to crowd out the truly important things of life), but I can’t remember its author’s name or which publication it was in.

Today, we suffer information overload, and we forget so much more quickly and easily. Can any words really take root in our lives to the point of making a lasting difference? Will any of the words that I write make any difference to anyone else?

Only one author’s words have the infallible promise that they will live eternally and make a lasting impression and difference in their readers’ lives, and those are God’s. He said, “My word . . . shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11).

If written, my words might not get published. If published, they might not be read. If read, they might not be remembered or make any difference in anyone’s life. But it’s nonetheless my responsibility to write them, whether many or few. What happens to them after that is beyond my control. As Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson said, “Duty is mine; consequences are God’s.”

Jesse Stuart, another writer-teacher, encouraged fellow writers to persevere:

And if men thwart you, take no heed.

If men hate you, have no care.

Sing your song.

Dream your Dream.

Hope your hope.

Pray your prayer.

So I write. I don’t know how many words I have left in me, just as I don’t know how much longer my life will last. But I simply do what God has called me to do and leave the results with Him.