I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area, while my heart is back at Tulsa Adventist Academy 35 years ago.
On a fall morning in 1978, I took my seat along with the rest of my 7th grade classmates at Tulsa Adventist Academy, as we set out to embark on a new adventure called junior high school. We were greeted by our teacher, Joada, McGehee, who began by giving us a pep talk on where we were in life now. She told us we were not little kids anymore. She said we were becoming adults. We were somewhere in the middle, and on some days we would feel and be real mature, and on other days we would want to run out onto the play ground yelling and playing like little kids. She was right. For the next 35 years, some days I feel mature, and other days I want to go play on the playground. But I digress.
And so began my teen years, my formative years. For the next 6 years, Mrs. McGehee would be there every fall, winter and Spring day, teaching me history and English, and writing. She was even there when I made my failed bid for the Presidency in 1980. My campaign slogan was, “William Earnhardt for President: he’s poor but honest, just like Abraham Lincoln.” Well as it turned out I was not as poor or honest as Abe Lincoln, but when you are young you have big dreams and ambitions. One of my ambitions was writing. I started keeping a journal. I started writing poetry. I remember writing poems about this girl I had a crush on back then. Today I look at that poem, written on yellow paper that used to be white, and I laugh at myself for writing such nonsense, that at the time seemed so real. I wrote sacred poems as well. I would share my writing with Mrs. McGehee and she would tell me I really had a gift for writing. I preached my first sermon when I was 15 and she was there to encourage me then too. During a period of your life, where you are not sure who you are in life, and where you are going, she was always there to encourage me on my way. She taught me how to write and even how to type. Who knew, while typing on those old typewriters in 9th grade typing class, that one day I would be typing on blog posts? There was so much about the future we did not know.
Many years later, Joada McGehee, now Joada Korgan, ran across one of my devotionals online and sent me a personal e-mail telling me how proud she was of my writing and ministry. We kept in touch over the years by e-mail until Facebook came out and we became Facebook friends. She was there in 2008 for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. In September of 2011, she and her husband Julius, drove from Claremore Oklahoma, to Owasso to hear me preach as a guest speaker. Just a few months earlier she had written me, to put me in contact with a friend of hers here in Florida who needed some spiritual guidance. Joada told me how glad she was that I was there to help. It was cool being able to network with someone who goes all the way back to your childhood.
Last Friday morning my phone rang. It was the lady Joada had put me in touch with here. She was telling me that Joada had just been put on hospice and that It was only a matter of time. My first thought was that I had to tell Joada thank you before it was too late. That afternoon our mutual friend called, telling me Joada wanted me to call her. I called. She recognized my voice right away. I told her how sorry I was about the news and that I wanted to thank her for everything she had taught me and for encouraging me in my writing and preaching. Her first reply was ,”Well I know I made mistakes.” I told her we all had. When you are young you can be critical of your parents and teachers, until you grow up and start making the same mistakes they did. Then I told her that was not what this call was about. It was about saying thank you to someone who had been one of my greatest cheerleaders over the last 35 years. We had a brief but meaningful conversation. I savored every encouraging word as it fell on my ear. Even when your ministry takes you 35 years and 1300 miles down the road, to another place and time, it still feels good to know, someone from your childhood is still there cheering you on. When someone has been there for so long, you start to assume they will be there forever. I was so glad I got to call and say thank you. In the 7th grade I wasn’t the best in getting my assignments done on time, but as we hung up she gave me my last assignment. She told me to be sure and pray for my classmates who have wandered from Jesus. I won’t forget this assignment like I did so many others. Thank you Joada for the pep talks in the 7th grade. Thank you for teaching me how to write and how to type what was on my heart. Thank you for the encouraging notes over the last 35 years. Thank you Jesus for the encouraging people in my life. Today I got a phone call. Joada fell asleep in Jesus today. I’m glad I got to say thank you.