Simple Influence

I [Pam] could hardly wait for seventh period! It was the last hour of the day in my junior-high schedule. Mrs. Clough was my favorite teacher. She would read from a novel for 15 minutes in each class, and those minutes seemed magical as they transported me to faraway countries, and lives that seemed far more exciting than the simple life of an Idaho farm girl.

But it was the classwork we did, diagramming sentences, that I looked forward to most. The majority of the class would groan as Mrs. Clough would instruct us to take out our grammar books, but I loved this moment. Mrs. Clough would ask for volunteers to come to the chalkboard and diagram a sentence, artfully drawing out the subject, verb, noun, prepositional phrases and so on. I loved the work, but what I loved more were Mrs. Clough's words of encouragement, "Pam, you can do these so quickly. You really have a knack for this! I wonder if there is a writer in you."

The days I loved most were the days when some students wanted to hide in the bathroom or fake a stomachache to get a pass to the nurse's office. Those were the afternoons we'd write in class, and then stand in front of the class and read our work aloud. As other classmates ducked for cover, praying Mrs. Clough wouldn't call on them, my hand would fly up to volunteer. Mrs. Clough could be counted on to give the words I longed to hear, "Pam, I believe there is a book or two in that heart of yours. Wouldn't surprise me if I one day will check out a book that you have written from our very own library!"

They were simple words. I am sure she must have said similar things to hundreds of students over her lifetime of teaching at that same junior-high school, but those words spoke life into my heart. I always loved to read, but after Mrs. Clough got a hold on my heart, I read voraciously, checking out several books — more than 300 or 400 pages long — at a time. I had to convince the librarian I could indeed read that many books in a two-week period.

I look back and I wonder what my life would be like today if I had not had the blessing and God-ordained privilege of having Mrs. Clough as my first writing mentor. She didn't spend hours and hours of extra time with me — though she'd read anything I wrote and brought to her. She didn't fawn over my talent and press me into summer college classes or encourage my parents to send me to a writing camp. No, her influence was simple. She gave a sentence or two of truthful encouragement every day for nine months, and within that year, a writer was born.

So often, as adults, we feel we don't have enough time or training to be a mentor. We might feel our words lack eloquence — but that is the wonder of mentoring. Simple phrases of truth, aptly spoken, are like the two fish and those few loaves that the disciples gathered from a little boy's lunch that fed the five thousand. When we give our small, simple part, God adds Himself and a miracle happens, and people are fed. When you give whatever time you have available, and speak whatever words God brings to your mind, young women's lives will be changed for eternity.

In that little library, in that rural community, there are books with that young woman's name on the spine. To date, I have written 30 titles, but it all began with a little seed of kindness that was planted by Mrs. Clough.

Excerpted and adapted from Pam Farrel and Doreen Hanna's book Raising a Modern-Day Princess, a Focus on the Family book. Copyright © 2009, Pam Farrel and Doreen Hanna. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.