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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Everly's Blessing

 Originally posted on CaringBridge.org

Today our pastor, Dr. William C. Turner, Jr., took his text from Isaiah 44:2-3.  It is a promise of water in the desert, of the Spirit of God upon the people.  He pointed out a significant distinction that many of us may miss.  When God blesses us, the blessing is not for us.  God blesses us that we will bless others.  This particular text says that the blessing will be for the offspring and descendants of those who first receive it.

The sermon sent me to thinking about the blessing of Everly.  A little more than thirty-six years ago, in the fall of 1976, Everly arrived in Waco, Texas, to start her higher education at Baylor University.  Within a few days we met one another as part of a leadership group recruited and sponsored by the Baptist Student Union.  Everly had been recognized by her peers and teachers at the very large J. Frank Dobie High School as perhaps the strongest leader in her graduating class.  She was expected by them to go far and accomplish great things.  I was a small-town boy with an over-estimation of my importance in the world.

It was a couple of months before Everly and I began to get to know one another.  She endured what women in our culture often endure--listening to men talk excessively about themselves (in this case, I was the blabbermouth).  Even with that, she detected something in me worth sticking around to discover.  I was especially drawn to the joyfulness she brought when we were together.

As we grew to be a couple, we had lots of long talks.  One of the early memorable conversations had to do with Everly's calling to teach.  She did not begin her university studies with plans to be a teacher, and some important people had steered her away from it because they thought she could aim for something "better" or "higher."  However, her first year of studies was leaving her with a feeling of something missing.  She was becoming sure that she should be an educator.  Everly did not see a need to separate high achievement from a vocation that would allow her to serve the community and use the gifts to teach that had already appeared.

Most of us who have lived long enough know that the actual path our lives take is far more complicated than we might have imagined at the outset of adulthood.  Everly finished Baylor with little inclination to ever go back to school again.  She immediately became a teacher, and in the course of a few years taught math at most levels from middle school to high school seniors.  It only took about a year of teaching--a year of wondering how it is that some children learn a concept and others don't, puzzling why some strategies work with one child and not another, reflecting on the processes children develop on their own to figure things out--before Everly started recognizing her drive toward further study.  A masters degree in math education from the University of Texas followed.

Then more years of teaching took Everly through Irving, Texas, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Durham, North Carolina.  As a lead teacher, a department chair, a Presidential Award Winner, and a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina, Everly's vision of better classroom teaching expanded and began to make its mark.  Eventually she moved to district-level curriculum leadership in Durham Public Schools, gaining national recognition for her work, including the Outstanding Young Alumni Award from Baylor University.  And during those years she began work on her doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina.

From Durham she advanced to state leadership as the Director of Mathematics for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.  Having made a lasting mark on that state, she most recently moved to lead mathematics curriculum for the Texas Education Agency.

This is a story that many of you already know.  But for me it is a way of showing how Everly has understood deeply from a very young age that the blessings she has received are for others.  She had dedicated herself to understanding young minds, developing strategies for instruction, and uplifting all students to realize success in mathematics.  Her bountiful intelligence, enthusiasm, organizational insight, and compassion are blessings she received to share with others.

Another way of saying this is that Everly is our blessing.  We have received her into our lives as she has poured herself out, doing good.  She has done good to teachers by recognizing their centrality and power in education.  She has done good to students by never giving up on their capacity for higher math.  She has done good to bureaucrats and politicians by helping them direct their ambition and power toward better curriculum and schools.  She has done good to her colleagues by finding their best qualities and helping them to grow in those ways.

I guess I got the best of the blessing.  I got to live with Everly and share my life with her all of these years.  She is my supreme blessing.  From the time of her first years of teaching, the two of us have had an unending conversation about math teaching.  She has hammered out her ideas, her experiments, her theories, and her resolve in long talks as we drove to work, did the laundry, picked up the kids' toys, sat down in the evening, and just about any time or any place. 

As I said earlier, I probably started out with an over-inflated sense of my own importance.  We intellectual and academic types are prone to such delusions.  I have had a very satisfying and enriching career as a professor, so I'm not belittling that. 

But I also have come to understand that God blessed me with Everly not to have her only for myself, but so that I could play a part in giving her the strength to bless the world.  Reading so many of the comments on CaringBridge has further confirmed this is true.  Everly's influence is deep and wide, and the people she is touching, working with, and serving are blessed beyond measure.  Wherever she has gone, people and institutions have changed for the better.  I'm thankful that I am sharing in such a powerful life of blessing in this world.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring.

I am a witness.  This is what God has done and continues doing through Everly.  All praise and glory be to the Holy One of Israel!  Amen.

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