Updated on November 22, 2017
On being thankful for our people
I was eleven when I first met her; right at the beginning of that braces, bad hair and awkward shyness phase. I was a student and she was the principal. My goal was to never have to talk to her. Ever. Her heels and clothes and super cool car were legendary and no one wanted to cross her. No one. I distinctly remember that she paused once to speak to me, a lowly 6th grader, and I was so petrified that I stared at the old black and white tile floor the whole time. She stooped down, trying to catch my eyes, “It is imperative that you look people in the eye when they speak to you. Remember that,” she said smiling sideways and sauntering off into the office. I wanted to melt into that floor.
But for the next three years of middle school, she would stop every time we passed and speak to me, always insisting on my eyes as we discussed _______, actually, I have no memory whatsoever of what we discussed. I only remember how I lost layers of my overwhelming shyness as she stood there in those drafty old hallways and spoke to me. I only remember that she wouldn’t let me look at the floor and that she smiled as I talked.
I had no idea back then that my ability to look intimidating people in the eye would be a skill I would need for the rest of my life.
I had no idea that one day I would be a twenty-two-year-old freshly minted college student in need of a teaching job. No idea that I would sit across the desk from that legend of a principal again and manage to hold her gaze while she smiled and asked if I wanted to come to work for her. I had no idea.
You have them too, I know. Stories of God’s amazing work through the people he has sent and continues to send your way. Stories of those who have walked in and out of your life and left fingerprints so deep in your heart that you can trace the edges of them through your days. Stories of how God has used relationships to build you and to shape you. Stories of God loving you through his people.
Close your eyes for a minute and think. Who are they? Can you see their faces? Can you remember where you were when you met them? Can you hear their words? Makes you so thankful, doesn’t it?
I love to think about the fact that we are all made in the image of God, our Creator. Emily Freeman says in her book, A Million Little Ways that “we are image bearers with a job to do.” We are built in the image of our Father, and we are sent out to be in relationship with others so that they might see bits of him in us. It is through these relationships that we are called to love others into the kingdom. It is through these relationships that we are changed.
And sometimes we don’t know how it’s going to go. Sometimes God walks someone into our life, and we don’t get it. We don’t get how it is supposed to work.
I couldn’t have known as a nervous 6th-grade girl that one day that brilliant middle school principal would impart knowledge still resonating with me today. I couldn’t have known that my years teaching at her school would change me from the inside out. I had no way to foresee the impact of all the things. Things like these words she once left on a sticky note taped to my desk after I had made too many mistakes to count one dark and rainy day, “You are a strong leader and a gifted teacher. Be one.” I had no way to know how God would use it all.
And she didn’t either.
See here’s the thing about relationships. Sometimes they require seeing something that isn’t there.
Jesus knew this, and he lived it out in his own relationships. The woman at the well, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, really any of the twelve disciples; none of them looked like much. They weren’t at the top of the ladder. They didn’t have it all together. They made lots of mistakes. But Jesus saw them as they were made to be instead of as they thought they were.
“Come follow me… and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matthew 4:19). That’s how it all started. Jesus building relationships and unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit to do its work on this earth. It started with his people. He saw potential like no one else. And in hindsight, the disciples started to see it, too.
Just look at Peter. Peter, the disciple who would deny Jesus three times, who blundered his way through portions of their ministry, but who would look back at it all and say, “we were eyewitnesses to his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16). Peter got it. He got the majesty that is a relationship with a God who loves us as we are, but who doesn’t leave us that way.
A God who sends us our people. People to push us into uncomfortable places because they see something we can’t. People who make us stronger and give us the courage to stand taller and look scary things right in the eye.
Nothing fills my heart with thanksgiving more than thinking about all the people God has sent my way. Nothing leaves me more in awe of God than seeing, even if just for a moment, how he weaves our lives together.
Go be that person for someone else. Be the one who sees in them what they can’t.
I have to remind myself that we are called to build into others as we have been built into; to talk to painfully shy 6th graders and spur on inadequate first-year teachers; to pull up those who are behind us and point a way to Jesus.
Because you just never know. You never know whose heart God might change through that relationship. You never know how much the little things might come to mean and what kind of legacy might be left behind.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11-12).