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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Influential People

Have you ever noticed that certain people come into and out of our lives throughout our lives ... and they seem to have wildly different levels of impact on us. There are many people in my life. Many of them have been there in the past too. I suppose hundreds, at least.

But as I look at them, I notice something peculiar. It seems that only a handful of them fall into some category that I think differently about. They are different from the hundreds. The impact they made on my life is different than even family could have had. I wonder if I've ever really taken the time to consider why that is.

To be sure, I think very fondly of them. In some respects, these were people who gave me hope. I made a list of these people this week. I was surprised at the length of the list. It's relatively short. And I was surprised at the criteria - the common theme.

They were among the many people who've taken the time to get to know me. But they did it differently than everyone else I've ever known. It's as if they singled me out ... to make an investment in me.

I think they took a risk on me. They made a bet on me. They could have lost big time. But they didn't. They gave me grace (i.e., unmerited favor) --- but it paid off for them. Let me share a couple of them with you.

Leah Johnston was my English teacher in the 8th grade. I'd had a very difficult time in 7th grade and was an emotional mess. She saw something in me though. I was selected to step out of her class twice a week to go and tutor second graders in reading. It made me feel special. It gave me hope. In years past, more than once I've said Mrs. Johnston probably saved my life. If it weren't for her giving me some hope, I suspect I would have continued to spiral badly downward.

Fred Terwilliger was my boss at a Chrysler dealership. I had wanted to try my hand at selling cars. I got a job with a high volume dealer, totally botched it and got fired. But Fred took a risk on me. He took me under his wing, hired me, mentored me, humored me and helped me learn to have some confidence in my own abilities. He used to call me "Herbie." I've never been sure why. But I will always fondly recall Fred. He could have called me anything he wanted to.

Daniel McBride was one of my customers at the Chrysler dealership. He was an old man, in a wheel chair. He'd been successful and I believed him to be wealthy at the time. He must have bought three cars from me in the course of a year. I look back and wonder if his kids didn't think him a bit cynical squandering that money on new cars. But he would have me bring the cars to his house. I would sit in his living room and ask him questions about life. My own father had died when I was quite young - so I had a lot of questions. I was a simple car salesman, but Mr. McBride took a chance and invested in me. It was 1977 --- and I still remember him for that.

Terry King was my boss at a mortgage company in Houston. I had moved there with no job. I was desperate. He had no job for me, except for an opening for a typist. But he let me take the typing test, hired me, and I ended up with a solid career in that industry. In the few short years I worked for him, he had to tell me to dress better, coach me on how to handle myself, and mentor me in several unusual ways. (I was pretty clueless!) I tracked him down in San Francisco last October. I hadn't seen him since 1984. We spent a couple hours talking and I thanked him for giving me such a wonderful start in life. I will forever be grateful.

Are you starting to see the pattern here? Ordinary people. Ordinary encounters. But extraordinary results. To be fair, these are not the only people who've cared about me, invested in me, taken a chance on me or tried to give me hope or mentor me. So why are they different? There about 8 of them in total. Most of them were in a position of authority over me. But they used it in extraordinary ways.

I'm still noodling on this and trying to comprehend what God has been doing in my life. I'm beginning to suspect that among the dozens of people God has used to minister to me over the years, these eight were "special agents" of His handiwork with me. I'm so grateful for that. And it makes me wonder if He might be using me as a "special agent" of His handiwork in someone else!

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