Did you have a favorite teacher?

Did you have someone who saw something special in you, challenged you, and encouraged you to be your best? You’d do anything for a teacher like that. You wanted to do well, not to get their approval, you already had that; but because they genuinely shared in your delight.

For me, that teacher was Captain David Whitlock, the speech and debate coach at the Air Force Academy when I was a cadet. “Coach” put together one of the top programs nationally, even though all his students attended the Academy for reasons other than debate. Coach took us to tournaments all over the country, usually via antiquated T-29 trainer airplanes. Coach was our mentor and guide, showing us a bit of what life was like outside a military college.  

I’d looked for Coach many times over the years to tell him how much he meant to me, but without luck. Then recently, a friend from the debate team found me online and we started checking in. Soon there was a group of us exchanging emails. We all wanted to know, “Has anyone heard from Coach?”

Coach had had the same impact on all of us.

And then, lo and behold, Coach was found! At 84, he was still teaching speech to undergrads near Dayton. He even sent us a selfie. There was that same smile, surrounded by a new batch of students.

One by one, my old teammates started checking in. They all said what I had wanted to say all those years. I hesitated as I tried to come up with just the right words. Then last Sunday, I came home from church and there was an email from Coach to us all.

And there was this: “Tom Hall, we knew you’d do something very special with your life, but I was a little surprised that you jumped ahead of the rest of us in that waiting line to heaven. Nice move. One distinguished career just wasn’t enough for you, was it?”

I lost it. And even as I write this, it’s hard to see the screen. Before I could say “thank you,” the words of approval had been on my teacher’s lips.

This is how God is with us. God is waiting to tell us what we long to hear. Before the words of thanks are on our lips, he says to us, “There’s something special about you.”

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