You never know when you’ll have an impact on someone, so keep your eyes open for opportunities. I’m not sure my eyes were open when I entered the college classroom to teach a theology class. There, sitting at the back of the room with one of his friends, was Tanner. Before the class even started Tanner began to engage me and the entire class with his humor. He was already joking about the amount of homework, or some inside joke he had with one of his friends, or what the first assignment was going to be.
Of all the students in the class, Tanner was the one I thought I might impact the least. I wasn’t sure that he’d be engaged or anxious to learn what we had in front of us. But as the class proceeded over the next few months, I found Tanner to be thoughtful in his response (albeit, often with a joke included!), faithful in his studies, and ready to take on challenges.
It turned out that wasn’t the last time I had Tanner in one of my classes. Nor was it the last time I would encounter him in everyday life. There was the time my wife and I gave him and his roommates a large screen TV. There was the time I ran into him in the university library and had a great chat. There was the time he came and visited our new congregation in Florida, even after we had moved away from Milwaukee.
And there was the time he asked for support for his Kickstarter campaign to record a “spoken word” album…and the time he asked for a reference for a job he desperately wanted.
Then there was the time I opened up the CD packaging for his dream-fulfilling “spoken word” album, only to see my name listed amongst those he was “thanking.” It brought me almost to the point of tears. I wondered what I had done to be thanked. Really all I had done was recognize a person with unique gifts and talents, and encouraged him at times along the way to pursue his dreams. Apparently that encouragement meant something to Tanner. And it meant more to me than he will ever know that he simply thanked me for having a small part in pursuing his dream.
This is what all adults ought to do, not only with their own children, but with any younger people with whom they have influence. Encourage them to dream, and hope, and live, and love, and chase after what makes her heart fly or his adrenaline rush. It’s the reason one of the highlights of every month is to meet together with four young men who have become a part of my year-long mentoring group. We read. We encourage one another. We push each other. We joke around. We support hopes and dreams. We value open and honest discussions.
And I see right in front of me dreams being planned and pursued, and even coming true.
So thank you, Tanner, for the “thank you.” You have had an impact on me by making me realize that a little encouragement goes a long way. I will never forget the joy and laughter you brought to our classes there at good old CUW. But more than that, I’m looking forward to seeing where your life leads next.
And, by the way, Tanner also got the job.
Whom is it in your web of relationships that you can impact and encourage to chase after her or his dream?