We got a call last night from our group that left to take furniture and household items to the hurricane victims. The thing that always floors me in these relief efforts is the gratefulness of the people who have lost everything. The pastor's wife in one of the churches in Mississippi said, "You'll never know how many lives you have touched here". That got me to thinking .... do any of us ever know how many lives we touch - even those who just go about living their normal daily lives can't help but to touch others in ways they often don't realize. Let me share about twi women who have changed my life as they went about their daily routine and were unaware of the impact they were having.
My English professor at Miami University. I'll leave her anonymous since she may not appeciate me posting her name on the internet. In my early 30's I set about going back to college to finish my education. At the time I was really lacking in confidence. Actually that is a tremendous understatement. Because of some earlier experiences I was convinced that I was not college material .... that I was completely stupid, and in fact, maybe even mildly retarded. Going back to school took enormous courage. Especially since the college I attended had a reputation for being academically tough. What if I failed? What if I proved myself right and revealed to the world just how inadequate and inept I really was? In college the truth would be revealed and I just might show everyone all of my glaring inadequaces.
My first class was a Literature and Comp. class. The assignment was simple - to read literature and then write a meaningful paper about what we had read. I remember very well the first day of class when the professor explained how she worked and what she expected from us. I sank as she told us that five gramatical errors would get us a failed paper! I left class that day feeling sure that I was in deep soup and had made a terrible mistake by attempting college.
But something really strange happened over the course of that semester. I did well! Let me just break here to say THANK GOD FOR SPELL CHECKER!! It wasn't the grades that kept me going, although those were nice, but it was the comments she wrote on each of my papers that really made the difference for me. I won't go into detail but I will say that becuase this gifted teacher simply did her job God used this woman who didn't even know Him to restore a bit of my confidence that had long been lost. Now, hopefully she's not reading blogs these days or she may be disappointed in one of her students. :)
The second woman is also a professor although her impact on my life came about through some tragic events.
When I walked into Sherry Corbett's summer criminology class in 2002 I had no idea how my life was about to change. I had every intention of completing my degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminology and then going on to get a MA in counseling. That was the plan and I was well on my way. Only a few more classes and I would have my BA. I enjoyed that sememster ... we studied murder. Admittedly it was a bit creepy to come out of class late at night and walk alone on the dark campus to my car, but I have always been interested in human behavoir and what makes people do the things they do so I was thrilled to be studying serial killers. And Sherry was a great professor. Her enthusiam was contagous. She was so full of life and so excited about what she was doing that it was no wonder that she consistently rated as one of the most popular professors on campus. The last week of class rolled around and we were all a bit anxious about the upcoming final exam. On the day of the exam we walked into class and immediately sensed that something was out of place. Sherry who had always been there early to chat with students was missing. A man from the department of Sociology was filling in for her that night. After everyone arrived we learned that Sherry had been murdered just 2 nights before. To say that we were shocked and saddned doesn't even begin to describe our feelings. Somehow we managed to finish the semester but my life would not be the same again - ever.
Let me just say that Sherry was a great teacher. She taught with a very "hands on" approach. She took us to jail and to a maximum security prison, not to visit inmates, but to be in there with them for several hours listening to them ... and watching our backs. Her lectures were not dull in any sense of the word. She bounced from one side of the room to the other often climbing up on her desk (she was short) to make a point. But aside from what she taught me about criminology, she taught me more about life.
Sherry's thing was "you can curse the darkness or you can light a candle". She lived that out in her life in a variety of ways. I did not. I was a complainer. A criticizer. I was especially critical of the church. I said it was becuase I cared about the church and I'm sure that was part of it, but I was also part of the problem becuase of my negative attitude. I had been one to look about and see all that the church "should" be doing and wasn't. My heart, my passion, is reaching out to the outcasts of the world - those that don't fit in. The homeless, the addicts, and all of us "normal" people who feel so abandoned or judged by the church. As I looked about my congregation and many others (though mine was the one I was concerned about) I didn't see anything like that happening. I heard a lot of excuses, some probably legitimate. But it just irritated me to no end to see what I construed as a lack of careing for anyone outside our walls. For years I had complained about it. Loudly.
When Sherry died the fact that life was short and uncertain hit home in a big way. I realized that I didn't have much time. That even if I lived the 70 or so years that is average, that wasn't much time. I didn't have time to wait for boards and committies to "do" something. So, I set about doing it myself - with our without their permission. Hence, my reputation as reckless and a rebel. (OK, so the tattoo and the '68 Mustang might have had something to do with that as well.)
I dropped out of school with only 3 classes to go before graduation. I realized that (1) I coudln't do anything with a degree in Psy. that I couldn't already do, and (2) that I was tired of spending years preparing to live my life and not really living it. I started the Matt. 25 Project - which was a movement in our church to bring to light some opportunities for people to serve outside the church walls. We had a Sunday evening service devoted to this cause - complete with a candle lighting. :) The goal was simple - to let people in the pews know what they could do to be the church out there in our community. I believe that there are people hungering to make a difference and to be Jesus with skin on to others but they often don't know how or where to start. The Matt. 25 Project was simply to let them know how and where. We do not have a committee anymore and many would say that The Matt. 25 Project is dead. I disagree. We have a number of people within our congregation who are serving. One lady volunteers at a local ministry to street kids. A group of retired men regularly go to Eagle's Nest to do all sorts of manual labor. (Eagle's Nest is the home that my former pastor begin when he and his wife adopted several special needs children.) And we take yearly mission trips to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to work with the Lakota chilren. Most recently we have done several trips to the areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The funny thing is, none of this is planned by the board or the "organized" church - it is simply people who want to do something to make a difference in the lives of hurting people.
Well, I've rambled on for too long. I think my original point was that God can and does use oridinary people who are just going about their daily routine to touch the lives of others. Who knows what life we touch, or maybe even change, just by being who God wants us to be and being faithful in those small things that make up life on planet earth. We are not good judges. We often look to those things we can see to judge whether or not God is using us but often I think He works in unseen ways. Probably becasue we do tend to judge, incorrectly. I'm sure Sherry Corbett had no idea how she affected my life. She probably just thought I was just a student intetested in criminology....