Yesterday I added my 1000th Facebook friend. Her name is Kelli Evans Brown. She is married to Donnell Brown of Throckmorton, Texas, and together they run a large cattle ranch. I met Kelli when I was in the ninth grade at Union High School and she was a freshman at the Oklahoma State University. Our one on one conversations over the next four years might have reached a total sum of one hour in duration, but this lady, like so many others, unknowingly had a profound impact on my life. None of them set out with a goal of injecting confidence into the life of a young man with cerebral palsy. No, the did it just by being themselves.
Like I said, this all starts at Union High School, Union, Mississippi, 1987. At the time, UHS offered very few elective courses. In fact, the way I remember it, the girls went to "Home Ec" class and the guys went to "Vo Ag" class. "Vo Ag" stands for Vocational Agriculture, and while none of us ever intended to become farmers, er, um, vocational agriculturalist, we were certainly not going to spend our time learning to cook and sew. The Vo Ag teacher was Mr. Mark Savell. Whether Mr. Savell took a special interest in me because I was in a wheelchair, or because I was simultaneously his third and fourth cousin (he'd have to explain it to you), really doesn't matter. The fact is that he did, and it changed my life forever.
Mr. Savell encouraged me to get involved in the FFA, Future Farmers of America. Again, I saw no farming in my future, but the FFA opened up a world for me I had never known previously: competition. While many of my able bodied friends were involved in athletic competition, in the FFA I found an outlet for my competitive spirit. The first competition I took part in was called "Creed Speaking". Mr. Savell required all of us as freshman to recite the FFA Creed for a grade in his Vo Ag class. I figured if I had to learn it anyway, I may as well learn it well, and get to get out of school one afternoon to perform at the District Competition. After more than twenty-five years, I still remember the first two paragraphs of the Creed:
"I believe in the future of farming, with a faith born not of words but of deeds - achievements won by present and past generations of farmers; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.
I believe that to live and work on a good farm is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of farm life, and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny."
Yep. Just typed that whole thing from memory. Then I Googled to see if I got it right. Only missed one little prepositional phrase. Probably the same one I missed twenty-five years ago which caused me to place second in the competition and miss a trip to the state finals. But I, as they say, had been "bug-bit" and I got so involved in the FFA my freshman year that I was nominated to receive the "Star Greenhand Award". The award was given at the end-of-the-year FFA banquet. We were also told that the national student president of the organization would be speaking at the UHS FFA banquet. That person was Kelli Evans.
I won the "Star Greenhand Award" that night, but that's not what made my night special. After the banquet was over, Kelli came over to congratulate me. And ya'll as Kelli Evans, THE national president of the FFA, with that long blonde hair and big eyes and that blue and gold corduroy jacket on, approached, it felt like she was moving in slow motion! I, a freshman at a little poe-dunk high school, was carrying on a conversation with a beautiful, intelligent, successful college girl! And she initiated it! She said that she'd heard great things about me, and I learned that she was majoring in Agricultural Economics.
Well, fast-forward four years or so. I did everything there was to do in FFA. I was Chapter Officer, livestock judge, parliamentary procedure contestant, District Officer candidate, state extemporaneous public speaking contestant, and eventually State Officer. Because of my involvement, I applied for and received one of the prestigious college scholarships offered by the FFA. The only requirement was that I major in some area of agriculture.
What do you think I chose? That's right...Agricultural Economics! Now it didn't hurt that I enjoyed my one semester of high school economics (thanks Coach Johnson), but that certainly wasn't the main reason. I thought to myself, "If ALL of the girls majoring in Agricultural Economics are like Kelli Evans...that's EXACTLY where I need to be!" And that, dear friends, is how I chose my major.
There are two glaring ironies here. The first is that when I arrived at Mississippi State to start my junior year after transferring from East Central Community College, I realized there were VERY few girls majoring in Ag. Econ. (And I can assure you NONE of them were like Kelli Evans.) The second irony is that these days part of my job is advising students and occasionally one of them will ask me to help them choose a major. My response, "Well, let me tell you how NOT to do it."
Awhile back someone told me, "If you like where you are, you can't complain about how you got there." Can I just tell you...I LOVE where I am! I have an amazing wife, kids, job, friends, church family, the list goes on and on. And if I hadn't majored in Ag. Econ. there are people I would have never met and things I might never have experienced. So Romans 8:28 is still true. Even when we follow our own selfish priorities, even when we don't make wise decisions, even when we stray, God really is working all things together for our good and His glory. So thanks David Mancil who introduced me to hunting. I now spend many happy hours enjoying God's creation. And thanks Dr. Little who taught me how to be a Christian witness in the classroom. And thanks Dr. Reinschmidt who taught me how to treat students like people. Notice how the Apostle Paul concludes his second letter to Timothy:
"Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all."
Did you see it? In these verses Paul mentions seventeen different people who have impacted his life. Here is Paul in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal, knowing he is nearing the end of his life, and what he thinks about is relationships. You'll never meet anyone who isn't important to God....