Todd Bienke

My favorite teacher growing up was
Mr. Deane (pronounced “dee-ah-nee”), bar none.

Oh, I had several wonderful and even inspirational teachers through the years, but for so many reasons, Mr. Deane stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was in his class that I learned so much about life, while having no clue as to the true power of what he was teaching. He was the warmest, kindest, sincerest teacher I ever had and while I was not a stellar student, he made me believe that my potential was uncontainable. I will always love Mr. Deane and he’ll always hold a very special place in my heart.

It was in Mr. Deane’s 6th grade class (6th grade was still elementary school in our district) that I began to really notice girls. Let me restate that: one girl. But alas, she never saw me. We went through the entire school year in the same room and I still don’t think she looked at me once.

6th grade was also the year that I ran for Vice President of Student Council. I don’t want to talk about that or how my campaign speech in front of the whole student body went when I almost fell off the stage. So drop it.

6th grade was also the year I learned what a cool walk was. Jason DeFalco showed everyone the walk all day everyday. I still haven’t mastered it.

6th grade was also the year that I played for the Lakers basketball team in the school league. We were the champions that season. Impressed? Don’t be. I never touched the ball once. But I wasn’t the only one inept at basketball. John Magill wore cleats to a game. Cleats. How did we end up as champions? Two words: Matt Magaffney. He was an NBA star trapped in a 6th grade kid’s body. He carried the rest of us, and our cleats.

And I’m pretty sure 6th grade was also the year I threw up during one of our concert band performances.

But there’s one lesson I learned that year that dims all those other stories. Mr. Deane had created a system of penalties and rewards where the “Deane Dollar” was the currency. If you missed your homework, you got a fine put up on the fine board, a bulletin board at the side of his classroom. If you wanted to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water, that’d cost you a Deane Dollar. If you got above a certain score on a test, you’d be rewarded with Deane Dollars. If you turned in your homework, more Deane Dollars. If your homework was done sloppily, that’d cost you Deane Dollars. You get the idea.

But the powerful life lesson that I learned within those 4 walls was one of redemption and forgiveness. I truly believe that it would ultimately help me see how beautiful the grace of God really is.

Enter Todd Bienke (pronounced “bin-kee”). Todd Bienke was a really good friend of mine in 6th grade. Maybe even my best friend that year, whether he knew it or not.

Being the mediocre student that I was, I often found myself with outstanding fines on the fine board in Mr. Deane’s class. And outstanding fines meant one thing: no recess at the end of the day. Yep, anyone with an unpaid fine when it came time to go outside and play was sentenced to time in Mrs. Rattwiler’s room. I’m not kidding. Her name was Rattwiler. A more horrid punishment you could not imagine. So, while the class was outside playing, those with unpaid fines would sit in Rattwiler’s room.

But Todd Bienke was my friend. Not only that, but Todd Bienke was a much better student than I was. And it seemed that Todd Bienke always had Deane Dollars to spare.

You can see it coming, can’t you?

So, when recess time came, I vividly recall more times than I can remember Todd Bienke walking over to that fine board, pulling the fine with my name on it off the board, placing his own Deane Dollars over it, and handing it to Mr. Deane. I almost get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I meant enough to Todd Bienke for him to spend his own Deane Dollars to pay for my recess.

You mean enough to God our Creator for Him to spend the blood of His one and only Son to pay for your freedom. On the cross, Jesus walked over to your fine board, took down all of your offenses, covered them with his blood, and handed them to the Father.

Now, enjoy recess!

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