Jeff Messer, Chaplain

The Power of Perspective

I turned 13-years-old in 1963, and like all 13-year-olds it was “life changing” for my little world, but until November 22nd I didn’t have a clue how much the whole world would change forever.

Until that fatal day in November, the biggest change for me was starting seventh grade at Travis Junior High. Travis was one of the newest schools in Amarillo and boy, was it something. My homeroom teacher was Mrs. Crossit, the art teacher where we sat at long tables on high stools and not “little baby desk” like in grade school. Even the desks in the other classes made you feel more like you were going to your office, rather than school. We got the day started with Mrs. Crossit for 15 minutes, and then we would exchange classes until after lunch when we came back for art, and then orchestra, and finally, football practice. Wow, we had hit the big times, even at lunch we got to choose what we wanted to eat and where to sit. One of the best things about going to Travis was that it was in the opposite direction of Forest Hill Elementary where my brothers were still going. No more walking them to school and making sure they got there ok, they were on their own! I have to say that today I would give anything to be close enough to walk with them everyday, but back then…well, you know I was 13 and they didn’t fit into my world.

The really big change in my world was girls, or should I say a girl. Her name was Becky and we had gone to Forest Hill together but in those days she was “a girl” now she was “A GIRL”. What a difference one summer can make. I had not realized that girls could make you challenge your world values, but that is exactly what happened when they announced that Travis would be having a fall dance for the students.

In those short 13 years of my life I had been taught that, for Baptists, the word DANCE was a dirty word.  “Nothing good has ever come from a dance floor,” our preacher would say. And I believed everything our preacher said, until I was 13 and our school was having a dance and I liked a girl named Becky! The big problem was that Becky was a Lutheran and for some reason their preachers didn’t know that DANCE was a dirty word. She finally convinced me that we could go and just watch and enjoy the music. Let me tell you that many a Baptist kid has fallen for that line. Second song she took me by the hand and I was putty in hers. As we went around the dance floor--the gym--we danced right into one of mom’s friends from our church. She was a teacher at Travis and it had never dawned on me that she would be there as a staff sponsor.  As our eyes met, my mind began to reel, “What was she doing at a dance, she is a Baptist, she doesn’t believe in dancing! Will my parents and I ever again be able to show our faces in church?”

Let me tell you, its tough being a Baptist kid that has “sinned”. Well, I managed to get through my first dance without being cast out of church or even having anyone say anything about it. All of that faded on November 22nd in Mrs. Hand’s English class and all of us who had turned thirteen that year would grow more than we had ever imagined. We were taking a test when the P.A. speaker popped and Mr. Garret’s somber voice told us that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas, and that the President had died. He then asked us to bow our heads and have a minute of prayer. When I got home from school that afternoon, I was surprised to see Dad’s car there. He had come home early from work, and he and Mom both had been crying. The television was on, and as I sat there with my family, the impact of all that had happened began to hit me.

Fifty years later, it is still surreal to think how the bitterness of a single individual’s heart could cause so much sorrow in the hearts of so many. What I have learned from all of the world changing events in my thirteenth year of life, is that God is not as concerned about the dance floor as He is on the floor of our heart and what spins around it.

King Solomon made the contrast between the good of a man’s heart, and the evil, in Proverbs 1:5-9.

(5) A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: (6) To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. (7) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (8) My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: (9) For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

As always, I am praying for you!