Words spoken into my life as a child during my early elementary education set me on a specific course. When I began first grade, I was thrilled to make new friends, and the days spent playing kickball on the playground and doing pasting projects were good days. I distinctly remember my mother coming to meet the teacher and get a report on my progress. Mrs. Rogers told my mother, “Greg is a happy child.” My mother was pleased about my temperament and my social skills, but years later she shared with me that she knew I couldn’t read a word and Mrs. Rogers didn’t seem to be concerned. The summer after first grade my mother spent many evenings with me teaching me to read the Dick and Jane books.
Second grade was a bit easier, especially since it was a split class that had both first and second graders together. Other than adding rope skipping to recess time, this year was rather uneventful.
By the time I got into third grade things picked up. I recall being assigned to do reports about the states, and I prepared reports on Michigan and Georgia. I recall that Michigan produced apples, and that was exciting because my dad grew apples. I remember that Georgia is the “Granite State,” and that seemed appropriate because I had visited Stone Mountain Park, the largest exposed granite monolith in the world. School was clicking for me, and then one day my heart stopped when the teacher called me to her desk.
Miss Pryor was a young, pretty teacher who was full of life and energy. She was also a teacher who didn’t put up with misbehavior from her students. One time when the class was being disruptive she lined up all the boys and girls and gave us each two swats. She didn’t mess around.
Now this spirited lady had called me to her desk. What had I done? Was I in trouble? Would my mother be coming to another meeting? Miss Pryor called me close and she pulled out her grading chart. She went through each subject one by one and showed me that I had an “A” in each area of study. Then she said, “If you keep it up you can make all A’s.” Wow, I, the kid who couldn’t read in first grade, was able to get all A’s! Her words made such an impact that not only did I make all A’s for that nine weeks, but I went on to make all A’s for the entire year.
The rest of the story is quite interesting. When I gave my report on Georgia, I also displayed a model C5A Galaxy jet that my uncle in Georgia worked on as an aerospace engineer with Lockheed. Miss Pryor later told me that she mused in her mind while I gave my report, “Who cares about what Greg’s uncle does in Georgia?” Long story short, I played a role in introducing Miss Pryor to my bachelor uncle, and Miss Pryor became Mrs. Garrett, my aunt.
My new aunt, Aurelia Garrett, continued to track my life and continued to encourage me and celebrate each level of education I achieved. This coming spring I expect to graduate with a Doctorate in Ministry, and the one regret I have is that Aunt Aurelia won’t be at the ceremony; she died at the young age of 64. If she were there, I would hug her and thank her from the bottom of my heart for the words she spoke into my life when I was only eight years old.
The Bible has much to say about the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (ESV). To put it simply, our words can be used for good to build others up or for evil and tear others down. The talkative nature of people can easily produce words that have to be eaten in shame, or words that are powerfully life-giving. Aunt Aurelia spoke abundant, positive, life-giving words into me and the power of those words has resounded in my mind and heart throughout my lifetime.
This is Greg Williams reporting from the field!
Photo provided by Greg Williams