For some of you this will be a “best, most moving story I ever read, must forward to 100 friends” whereas for others, halfway through the first line will have you rolling your eyes and going, “Oh, one of those”

if you are the former, enjoy the story, it’s an inspiring story…

if you are the latter, jump down to the bottom and see the point i am trying to make about it, it’s a great point:

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As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant.

It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.

Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners… he is a joy to be around..”

His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”

His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”

Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper That he got from a grocery bag Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.” After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.

On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets..”

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling* her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer…. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.

They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you Mrs. Thompson for* believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”

(For you that don’t know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.)

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TRUTH OR FICTION

As well as being the recurring eternal optimist [usually in events involving sport and especially the south african cricket team] i have  side career as being the somewhat-irregular-skepticist and so i went straight to Uncle Google to see if the story was true. What is interesting is that there was a Teddy Stoddard at the Iowa Methodist hospital and it does indeed have the Stoddard Cancer Wing. That seems to be where the connection ends though – according to the internets, this beautiful story is just that – a story. You can see more at http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/t/teddy.htm

HOWEVER, just because this is not a true story, doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to learn from it.

I recently had a friend of mine email me the background story [current home situation] of some people I work with and it just changed everything around and helped make a lot of sense to certain other things that had been going on or attitudes presented. Hearing someone’s home story, relationship struggle or internal pain doesn’t always condone their actions, but often it at the very least helps explain them which often makes it easier for us to show, grace, patience and forgiveness.

But too often we don’t know the story. And so there is this:

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i just heard what i thought was the most inspirationally thing on the book of facings today [i know, but it’s true!] where a friend shared that a few months ago they were at Lake Merritt [which is this stunning lake where all sorts of beautiful crazy things are always happening. Some people sitting at a table offering people a dollar to hear their stories. That sounds like such a great thing, and I am super keen to try it.

I admit it is a little random and maybe we can get a little more creative about how we do that with people we know, creating a space or forum for them to share. But just starting to change our mindsets [especially when we are tempted to judge people or be impatient with them] and realising that the people around us are probably masking some pain or discomfort at the moment. And how we can perhaps choose to be a little kinder and more gentle with them.

Hewbrews 12. 1-2  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I have occasionally run an activity when i have done a camp or church preach where before worship singing time i explain to everyone that, in the light of this verse from Hebrews, you are invited to write down your ‘everything that hinders’ or ‘the sin that so easily entangles’ you right at this moment. I also explain to them that before i start my speak i am going to read out what everyone wrote [so no surprises] but obviously without know who wrote what.

This has proved to be such a powerful exercise because as a church or camp community we get to have a glimpse of the struggles that the people around us are going through. Not many people arrive at church looking like they are struggling with adultery or losing their job or a serious health condition and so we tend to bury the story deep and put on our happy or neutral church face and then go and interact as if all is well before returning back home to whatever hidden pain or challenge[s] await us. But suddenly you hear about all of the crap that is being dealt with or faced by the people in the room and that can be so helpful as we start to realise what is really going on in the lives of the people around us.

WHERE DO I GET STARTED?

There is just so much that could be said on this, but maybe here are a few places to begin:

# When you hang out with your friends, do you tend towards superficial talk about movies, food, sports and music? Nothing wrong with any of these things per say, but if this the only way you spend time with your friends, why not consider creating some safe places to really just ask how people are doing, share your stories, listen to a point of pain.

# Relationships are an area that are often hugely under attack and pressure from all sides and we see how this plays out especially in the divorce rate. When last did you create a space for a couple you know well [can be dating, can be married, you can or can not be in a relationship] to invite them to share their story with you, to pay for them to have a date night, to offer to babysit their children for a day or a weekend so they can have some them time? 

# With someone not in a relationship there is the possibility for a lot of people that they don’t have ‘that person’ to share their stuff with. Why not invite someone out for a cup of coffee, a cycle, or over for a meal and give them a chance to just share how they are doing or if they have any points of pain at the moment [i imagine the closer your relationship is with them the more easily they will share]

i feel like a lot of this is just about creating the space or making the time. and if we get it right, this stuff can be revolutionary, it can be life-changing, it may even have the effect of preventing something like loneliness, addiction or even suicide.

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Do any of you have a story to share about a time when someone showed interest in your story and what it meant to you?

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