In one of my moves since amassing a library, my sister hefted a box across the room and asked, “What’s in here?! Bricks??” I think the answer to her question with respect to that particular box was “no,” but she was onto something about me: I do, actually, move bricks from one residence to the next…about eight of them, to be exact. (Though I’m smart enough not to pack all the bricks in the same box, and on my last move, they traveled box-free behind the driver’s seat.) I move (well, truthfully, my friends and family do the moving) bricks and boards, the makings of solid (and cheap) bookshelves.
All of these garden variety bricks could be easily replaced (or so I’m told), except for the one that’s gold-plated. Well, sort of. It has an engraved “gold” plate affixed to one side. This brick is one of a handful of trophies from my college days that has dodged the dumpster—and not because it’s particularly special, but because it’s useful (like the pottery that holds kitchen utensils and the goblet that holds buttons).
During three-fourths of my college career, I participated in intercollegiate speech competition—that is, forensics of the non-CSI kind. Most of my teammates were communication arts majors, with a flair for drama or debate or both, and some were even on scholarship because of their skills and interests. Some chose their college because of the forensics team. I, on the other hand, was an elementary education major and had chosen the school despite the fact that I would have to take a public speaking class in order to graduate. But in God’s providence, the public speaking class I took in my very first quarter (to get it over with) turned out to be my favorite class. I discovered to my great surprise that I actually enjoyed what I had so dreaded. To my greater surprise, my professor recommended that I audition for the school forensics team. “The what?” I replied.
And so began the journey that would transform my college experience and my life. I joined forensics less for the thrill of competition and the boost it would give my academic transcript than for the friends, fun, and place of belonging I hoped it would provide. It did all of those things—and more, mostly because of the man who stood at its center: Dr. David Robey, “Robes” to those of us who worked with him.
Robes was a man of excellence, and his teams proved it. He was a man of intensity and impeccability, characteristics that built a forensics program that could “bring home the gold” year after year. He was a man with vast gifts, experiences, and abilities.
But he was also a man with an annoying sense of foreknowledge. I distinctly remember a conversation in his office when we wandered from talking about forensics to chatting about my career direction. At the time, I told Robes I had no plans beyond being an elementary school teacher—that was all I wanted to do. He sat across the desk and just looked at me with his knowing smile, a knowing smile that drove me nuts. When he finally spoke, he suggested that I wouldn’t be content with that – that I would go to graduate school for a Masters Degree at the very least, if not a doctorate.
I was mad. And I was frustrated that my goals didn’t seem worthy for my esteemed professor, coach, and friend.
Years later I realized the worthiness of my goals was not at issue. I came to understand that the world is speckled with rare people who have the gift of seeing – the ability to assess a situation and a person and see how both can be better. Dr. Robey was one of those people. He saw what I didn’t. He affirmed my strengths and pointed gently at my weaknesses. He cast a vision for what I could become. At the time, I resented his vision for me, thinking it restricted my dreams, but I don’t see it that way anymore. Dr. Robey didn’t confine my dreams; he helped define them.
Half a lifetime has passed since I graduated from the world of forensics. And what have I done? I’ve done a lot of the things he said I would…no, I’ve done a lot of the thing he said I could.
I will see you at Jesus’ feet, my friend.
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