(Re-posted from Fall, 2008)
Last week I mentioned Mrs. Hollinger, one of my high school teachers. Actually, I had her for 2 years of German ("Frau Hollinger") and Senior English. She was, without doubt one of the most challenging teachers I ever had. Our report cards were scored with both our letter grade AND our percentage -- rounded to the nearest tenth -- for the grading period.
I goofed off through plenty of classes back then, but not hers. She was strict. She was demanding. She brought me into focus, though, for one reason: she believed in me! She believed that I could learn and do good work. She never accepted less than my best, but she believed I could learn to speak and write effectively.
A few years later, while I was in college, a prominent Phoenix businessman made the commitment to come to our campus and teach us how to share our faith in Christ. A group of us met with him once or twice a week in the late afternoon. Just before we started one day, he approached me out of the blue and said, "God is going to use you." I was caught off balance, but I never forgot that moment.
I'm not sure, but I think most of us pretty much believe in ourselves when we're small. (The other night at our Family Fall Festival, I saw a boy -- age 6 -- deftly take out his light saber and start taking on imaginary Imperial Storm Troopers with moves that would have made even Yoda smile.) Along the way, though, we each hit the wall (or the ground or the tree or the Principal's Office) enough times to thoroughly shake our confidence.
I'm convinced that many of us -- including me -- wouldn't have the courage to shake off the failure and try again if we didn't have someone we respect make it clear that we have possibilities. The encouragement we receive from one or two key people can become the fuel that burns deep within us when all outward evidence says our fire is gone.
Here's the best way I know how to say it: tell me what you believe about the people in your circle of influence and I'll tell you how much chance they have to succeed. Or fail.
Jesus took a handful of misfits that the high and mighty of his culture had no use for and, through them, shook the world!
He might just be able to use someone like me.