I had a group of 4th graders ask me this week: how do you choose what you're going to write about? I know my answer didn't give them the great writing tip they were hoping for. I'm equally certain it didn't immediately transform 10 year olds into future fixtures on the New York Times Best Sellers list. But it was the only answer I could come up with.
I told them I don't choose what I write about. It chooses me.
It was a particularly ironic group of 4th graders to share that answer with since I now believe they are the reason a recent article I wrote chose me.
Back in January of this year, I wrote about the unlikely death of Meg Menzies, hit and killed by an alleged drunk driver while running with her husband along a rural road near their home (God's Newest Angel - One With Years of Experience). When I first heard about the tragedy, I had no inclination to write about it. But after days of feeling a mysterious call to just sit down and write, I did. The caller gave no direction where to start or how it might end. Just write.
I didn't know Meg firsthand, so I started the article writing about her husband, Scott. I'll be honest, until I started writing, I never realized how much I admired that guy. Shortly into the article I wrote this: "I gained an added layer of appreciation for Sgt. Menzies that day. It became clear to me protecting my family was so important to him because of just how much he loved his."
With that statement I suddenly understood Scott's pain more than I imagined I ever would. Far more than I wanted to. But something told me that wasn't my purpose for writing the article. The further I wrote into that first Megsmiles story the more I felt like I was receiving an invitation. One that would seat me front and center to witness a man rising from tragedy on the strength of a love for family and touch the world in some incredible ways.
As the months went on I witnessed exactly that. Scott rising. His and Meg's family rising. Tens of thousands of runners pacing right behind them. All touching the world.
And me, I continued to write about it.
A couple of months ago my friend Tracey Outlaw brokered a deal with a teacher friend in Missouri. Mary Blackburn teaches at Orchard Hills Elementary School and was raising money for a field trip to take three 4th grade classes to meet published authors at a Children’s Literacy Festival. She said she wanted to “inspire them through writing”. Tracey would help them raise money to fund the trip if she agreed to read the blog articles I'd written about the Megsmiles story to her class prior to the trip. Over 10 days, Mary and two other peers read one blog a day to their classes. Tracey knew the Megsmiles group had inspired me to write, so he saw it as a perfect connection. You've got to understand, Tracey Outlaw's the kind of guy who sees bridges where many of us see impassable seas and uncrossable canyons. Where he sees thing naturally coming together, we see miracles.
When Tracey first told me about his idea, I reflected on that first Megsmiles story. I considered the idea of 4th grade teachers reading it to their students 1500 miles away. And I have to admit, I considered that a miracle no human initiative could have designed alone.
But that was only the beginning.
Earlier this week Tracey flew to Missouri to meet the students. It was his chance to thank them in person for being part of Meg’s story and hear about their visit with the authors. He also got to meet and thank the teachers who made this whole experience possible. And can I pause to say - in the middle of this miracle are three teachers who turn love and passion and commitment into mini-miracles every single day. Only for them it's not miraculous; they simply call it teaching. Hearing their stories has grown my hope for the future of our kids more than these beautiful ladies will ever know. And they have strengthened my faith. I have no doubt the blessing of connecting to them through a simple blog article is more about God's writing than mine.
Tracey heading to Missouri wouldn't be the end of the miracle though. Through modern technology we arranged to have me- and get this - Scott, video conferenced into the classroom for the meeting with Tracey and the teachers and their 55 students. Can you imagine how unlikely I would have thought it when I wrote that blog article that I would one day be talking to 4th graders in a Missouri classroom through my laptop computer about a woman who tragically lost her life with her grieving husband sitting right beside me?
Exactly. Mind boggling.
Here's the thing. None of the kids knew any of this was coming. It was all a surprise. The class showed up to find mystery guest Tracey Outlaw in their room. Then, at just the right time, Tracey introduced me on a giant screen. My assignment, after answering some cool questions from the kids about writing, was to find the perfect time to drop the third and final bombshell - Scott.
One of the more memorable moments of the morning for me was watching Scott standing by just itching to get in on the action.
He didn't have to wait long. One of the students asked me, "where do you get your inspiration from to write the Megsmiles stories?"
That was the easiest question for me to answer all day. "Let me introduce you to my friend Scott."
The kids immediately recognized Scott from the blog posts. They began to wave and welcome Scott to the screen with an unpracticed enthusiasm that is so preciously unique to elementary school kids. On our end, you could see the awe in their faces on the computer screen. On their end, Tracey said he could hear the whispers: "It's him. It's really Scott."
I promise you. There was equal awe in the spirits of these two guys sitting in a kitchen 1500 miles away in Ashland, Virginia.
The students had some great questions for Scott. They also had some hard ones.
Is it hard for your kids without their mom?
What happened to the guy who hit Meg?
Do you get sad a lot?
And Scott was a rock. He told the students his kids cry every day, that he does too, and as far as the man who hit Meg, they choose to focus on the good instead of the bad, but some days that's hard. The kids asked honest questions from the innocent hearts of 4th graders, Scott treated them like young adults and shot them straight right from his broken heart answers. I don't know how, but he held it together.
Then we got to ask the kids what they'd learned from Meg's story.
Several of the kids said they could relate to Scott's kids because a parent was missing from their family for one reason or another.
One student said he runs for Meg now instead of playing video games.
One little girl told a story of being at the park recently. As she was getting ready to leave she told her dad she wanted to run 10 laps around the track for Meg. He let her.
One little girl keeps her Megsmiles tag Tracey sent them hanging on her door so she can see Meg first thing every morning when she leaves.
It didn't take long to figure out these 4th graders were like so many of us. They never met Meg, but their lives have clearly been touched by her. How does that happen? How does a young lady from Hanover County, Virginia run full steam into the hearts of 10 year old children in Willard, Missouri when she's no longer here to do the running? And more curiously, at least on my part, how does she keep turning ripples into waves?
Because the story doesn't end with the ripple of Meg coming into the open-armed hearts of these 4th graders. There is now a wave, and we were blessed to see and hear the beginning of it when one young man read us a story he'd written as part of this whole experience. Scott and I sat mesmerized as this beautiful kid read us his words:
Who Inspires Me
One of the people in the whole world that inspires me is my dad.
I love how he cares for me and my younger brother. He loves me and my brother because when he grew up he had seven brothers and three sisters. I can imagine him loving all ten of his siblings. He was also the youngest kid in the family. When he was little and he lived in an apartment, there was a fire and most of his brothers and sisters died. All I know is he missed them a lot.
Another thing that inspires me is how smart my dad is! My dad said when he was little that he thought of things in different ways. When he got older and went to college he got his Masters degree, his History degree, and his teaching degree.
Another thing that inspires me about my dad is how he achieved his goals of being a Spanish teacher and a basketball coach. Sometimes I sit down and think how phenomenal it would be to complete my goals like my dad did. I always want to be like my dad.
My final reason that inspires me about my dad is what I would go through without him. I would forget things and be sad and lonely and not ever have a laughing moment with my dad. I don't know how I would get through my life without him....
These are the reasons why my dad inspires me and why I look up to him.
That is a wave my friends. I'm sure each of us felt it in different ways.
It is also an answer. How does a young lady from Hanover County, Virginia run full steam into the hearts of 10 year old children in Willard, Missouri when she's no longer here to do the running?
That becomes clearer every day, doesn't it? We are doing Meg's running now. Whether it's running a race, boarding a plane for Springfield Missouri, teaching kids, building memorials, writing a blog post, or letting our feet follow Meg's heart in a completely different direction. Meg started a beautiful legacy on this earth, and God has no intention of letting her absence here stand in the way of it touching the lives it was always intended to touch. I think Meg gets impatient with the pace of things every once in a while. But don't worry Meg, that's why we have computers and video screens.
And 4th graders.