Yesterday, I got a rare opportunity. I was driving toward Nashville when I received a text message telling me that my former High School Choir director had unexpectedly passed away the night before. Being isolated in a car for the next couple of hours gave me a lot of time to reflect on my loss. You see, Rose Dover was not just one of my teachers in school. She was one of the handful of people who really helped shape my life.
As a pastor, I have had the honor of giving the eulogy for a number of people over the years. Even though there are many people who were closer to Rose and her family, and would be much more deserving of the honor than I would, I still drifted toward the thought: what would I say if I were asked to give the eulogy of this beautiful lady? My mind immediately connected to a woman named Deborah, whose story is in Judges 4 and 5. She was a judge over the nation of Israel. Before Israel had kings, judges were the leaders of the people. In fact, Judges 5:7 calls Deborah “a mother in Israel.” This was exactly what Rose had been at East Ridge High School for years.
In Judges, chapter 4, Deborah encouraged a fearful general, named Barak, to lead his army into a daring attack against what seemed insurmountable odds. Barak, like many of us high school boys and girls, didn’t think he had the goods to overcome the challenge. Ultimately, Deborah goes with him to support him and to help overcome his insecurity. Rose Dover did this for so many of us. She saw greatness in us when we often didn’t see it in ourselves… and, man, did she have to look hard to see it in some of us. While I imagine she had more talented students than me over the years, I might stand alone on the pantheon of her most challenging student. In fact, years later, I visited her home and she showed me her old paddle from school, which still only had one name signed on it… mine! She never gave up on me, though. In fact, she never gave up on any of us. I’ll just share one story to make my point. One day, during class, she was playing the piano as we sang. I decided to throw my music folder at the piano to startle her (don’t ask why this seemed like a good idea to me; many of my ideas didn’t turn out exceptionally well). At any rate, I threw it too high and hit her right in the face. Startle might be an understatement. She picked herself up (again, don’t ask how she got on the floor), and sent me to the principal’s office. Instead of complying, I decided to go to the cafeteria for an elongated lunch. When he had to come find me eating, you can imagine his demeanor. He told me that he was of a mind to suspend me, but, that right after she had sent me to his office, Mrs. Dover had gone into her office and called over to the principal’s office asking him to please go easy on me. During her years of teaching, she impacted thousands of kids, who could tell thousands of stories which, while not exactly like this one, would be just as meaningful to them.
As I drove on toward Nashville, I decided that I wanted to write about my feelings. Sometimes that is the place that I can best process my emotions. I was actually a bit surprised at how upset I really was over her loss. I hadn’t spent any significant time with her in decades; yet the feelings were raw and real. Then, a most wonderful thing happened. I received another message. It turns out that there was a mix-up in the earlier information. Another family in East Ridge lost a loving and I’m sure, wonderful mother and wife. She had the same last name and a son with the same name, so the confusion was easy to understand. While their grief is every bit as real as mine had been, my heart leapt. Rose was okay!
A few years ago, there was a song called “Kiss from a Rose.” Yesterday’s events brought me to the conclusion that I, too, have been kissed by a Rose. Too many times, I have delivered eulogies at friends’ or family members’ funerals that were full of words that I wished that I had told them when they were still alive. While it would be easy to breathe a sigh of relief and go back to life, here is that rare opportunity: a chance to say things that should be said. Things like: I thank you for never giving up on me, even when I must have frustrated you to death. Thank you for laughing along as I turned your well-planned rehearsals into shambles. Thank you for seeing potential in me that I probably would have missed; and thank you for calling the principal and telling him to go easy on me.
Today, I pastor a remarkable group of people, and I also lead worship. I spent a number years before that as a music pastor and during that time I directed a choir. These are positions that you helped me believe that I could fill. All over the country your former students are doing amazing things that you gave them the confidence to try. That being said, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to bite my tongue when I can’t get anything done because I can’t get singers to quit talking and musicians to quit noodling on their instruments. Many times, though, I remember you. Your patience and grace in those moments was remarkable. I don’t have nearly as much of either quality, but I just about always go from frustration to a chuckle when I remember the words you spoke to me, many times: “I hope that you teach one day, and I hope you have a student just like you!” Who knew you were not only a mother to East Ridge, but a prophetess, as well? Welcome back, Mrs. Dover. There are thousands of us who are blessed to have been “kissed by a Rose.”