Rance Ledford* was a sophomore, and understandably depressed. His parents had both died in a car accident the summer before, and attending class was all he could do. He read no assignments. He completed no written work. He participated in no discussions. He walked in, sat down, stared out the window while silent tears rolled down his cheeks and dripped off his jaw, endured the time until class ended, and then walked out, on to the next heartbroken hour that was his life.
Rance attended appointments with the counselor. He waited quietly and politely while teachers spoke to him before and after class, thanked them for their concern, and continued his day. He withdrew from the friends he had before the accident and they gave up trying to elicit a smile from him, or engage him in conversation or typical high school activities. He became unapproachable. Eventually he would walk down the hall alone, eat lunch alone, and draw an invisible cloak of grief around himself that no one could penetrate.
I was a student-teacher in Rance’s English class. At the end of the year, when he had only completed the work of grief, but no school work, his compassionate teachers, trusting that perhaps he had absorbed at least some curriculum while sitting in class, informed him that he had failing grades in each of their classes, but offered that if he would attend summer school session, they would see that he passed and moved on with his graduating class. He did. They did. During summer, his tears stopped and he slowly began to engage again. By the end of his senior year, Rance was back on the Honor Roll, and when he graduated high school, I graduated from my Master’s program. I lost touch with him, but was so swamped with my job as a first-year teacher that I didn’t have the energy to track him down again and check on him. I resolved to do that over the summer. But I never did. I thought of him frequently, and over the years, every time he would come to mind, I would say a prayer and ask God to bless him, wherever he was, and to lift his heart in that moment.
Last year I retired after thirty years teaching in the public schools. My oldest daughter had graduated from college. My middle daughter was a senior in college. My youngest daughter was a senior in high school. My life was moving on, and occasionally I would still think of Rance, wonder how he had fared and what his life was like, and I would lift him in prayer.
This winter, as my youngest daughter began her spring semester at the university I had attended in the late 80s, I asked about her schedule. She took a screenshot and texted it to me. I immediately noticed her History professor’s name. Rance Ledford. I texted her right back. “Tell me about this Rance Ledford. Is he from there? Did he go to high school right there?” She responded quickly, “Yes!” I told her who I thought he was and asked her to let him know that I remembered him and had wondered all this time where and how he was, and how excited I was to learn that he was now a university professor, and a History teacher on top of that! After she had a chance to communicate with him, she shared details that let me know that Rance was well, thriving even, and had endured subsequent hardships in life with grace and peaceful determination. I felt awed that God would allow me this window into a life that had briefly connected with mine, so long ago, and let me see the miracle of this young man, once hopelessly lost in grief, but now extraordinarily found.
Sometimes, even when we don’t know why or how, God gives us opportunities to reach out, not to touch physically, or speak directly, but through prayer, to encourage each other in ways and times we may never know or understand. Rance eventually found joy in his grief, hope in his sorrow, peace in his turmoil and light in his darkness.
Won’t you take a moment and join me in lifting up someone who may need encouragement, who may be utterly lost, who could use a little joy, hope, peace and light? It could be someone you’ve prayed for a thousand times already. Or it may be someone who appears on the outside to have it all together, but you know better. You may never learn how much it meant to them.
On the other hand, you might.
*Name changed to protect privacy.