I anxiously waited for my name to be called. I stood in line behind the other graduates hoping I wouldn’t trip as I crossed the stage. I saw several of my fellow seminarians stop to shake his hand. I wondered if they knew him well; if he knew them by name. If they could do it, why couldn’t I? At last it was my turn. He called my name and I stuck my hand out well in advance of reaching him. He turned, returned my handshake and I continued across the stage to receive my diploma.
“He” was Dr. Richard Mouw, the president of my seminary. He didn’t know me but I had been one of the 100+ students in his Philosophy class a year earlier. He had made such an impression on me in that class I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shake his hand on my graduation day.
Our philosophy class had been interrupted one day by a member of the office staff approaching him in the large lecture hall. He read the piece of paper she handed him aloud to the class. It was notification for one of our fellow students to call his son’s school. It was an emergency. (Yes, this was before the days of everyone carrying a cell phone.) The student got up from his chair, left his belongings and followed the staff member out of the hall. Dr. Mouw continued with his lecture.
Several moments went by before the gentleman returned. He tried to return to his seat inconspicuously, quietly but quickly gathering all of his belongings. Several of us noticed him, including Dr. Mouw. He stopped his lecture, called the student by name and said, “Is everything okay?” The student reported his son had been in science class and during one of the experiments something had broken and struck his son in the eye. He was on his way to the hospital. Dr. Mouw asked the man his son’s name and said, “We’re going to pray right now for Johnny. You go ahead. We’re not going to keep you, but just know we’re praying.” The student finished gathering his things and Dr. Mouw led all of us in a prayer for Johnny.
That same week I was in another class in that same lecture hall. One of my fellow students who had Cerebral Palsy was walking too quickly down the ramp toward the front of the class and lost his balance. Everyone gasped and although the professor saw it he kept on with his lecture. Once he realized he had lost the class’ attention he stopped and said, “He’s okay.” (Without asking the student if he was.) It was such a sharp contrast from the experience with Dr. Mouw just a day or two earlier.
Not only was Dr. Mouw and amazing professor and leader of our seminary, he was an amazing man of God – walking the walk of a true believer. On the day of graduation he made himself available for graduates to have their picture taken with him. It was a hectic day. My family was there and the church campus was packed with people. (It had been the largest graduating class to date for the seminary.) I knew my family members were eager to get home but I just had to see if I could get a picture with this man. My mom was brave enough to navigate the crowd with me searching for him. Finally we found him.
I knew he didn’t know my name. Perhaps he remembered I was one of the many who shook his hand as I crossed the stage. I sheepishly asked for a picture which he granted. I thanked him, shook his hand again and turned to walk away. But he pulled me back. With my hand still in his, he gently pulled me so I was facing him again. He paused until my eyes were squarely on his. He smiled at me and slowly said four simple words… “Enjoy your day, today.”
There was something about that moment. All the noise around me was shut out. The worries of the day were gone. I was stopped dead in my tracks and the love of God washed over me like a rogue wave. I smiled back at him and swallowed hard before finally turning to leave.
That was fourteen years ago and the emotion is still there. I remember telling someone about it right after it happened and crying as I did. She said to me, “He blessed you!” She was right. That’s what it was. It wasn’t the words he said it was how he delivered them… the same way he lived his life – with meaning, and passion, and with God’s amazing love. I was blessed by him. In the flutter and flurry of an exciting but nerve-wracking day he quieted me for just a few seconds, zeroed in on my heart, and blessed me with four simple words.
In this graduation season, my prayer is that the graduates in your life get to experience what I did that day – the powerful love of God blessing them. You can be the glove that delivers that message. It comes from walking with Him every day and exemplifying Him in that walk. And it comes when we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit to speak love and life into someone when they least expect it, when they need it most, or when they just need to be stopped in their tracks and reminded that they are loved by God. God will show you. He will give you the words and the opportunity. Just make yourself available to Him. He may change someone’s life through the touch of your hand or four simple words that you speak.
Lord, thank you for Dr. Mouw and the blessing he was in my life. Thank you for his example. Thank you that you want to use us to touch others on your behalf. Make us ready. Open our hearts to hear your promptings and to respond to them obediently. In Jesus’ name, amen.