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From Teacher to Student

Steve Merritt

Once on a trip, when our car unexpectedly stopped moving forward, a cranky tow truck driver showed up looking like a grizzly bear rudely awakened from his winter hibernation...and just about as happy.

After he grunted a few words here and there, he hitched up our car, and we were ready to play Follow the Leader. I introduced my family to him as the five of us squeezed into the cab of his truck. The trip to a nearby store was cozy in a cramped and uncomfortable sort of way.

We stopped to call some friends, and while we waited, my kids brought the driver and me cups of hot chocolate. That's when he asked me if we were Christians. Again, I was surprised (but this was the good kind) and I told him that we were. Then he pulled a ragged, crumpled piece of paper out of his coat pocket and proceeded to read one of the most beautiful poems I've ever heard. He told me he'd scribbled it out early that morning after another towing surprise had kept him awake.

It's at moments like these when the tables are turned and things go topsy-turvy that we realize God is up to something. At first I'd thought, "How can I reflect the face of Christ to this man?" but God had different ideas. He often does. It was as if the Lord had ushered me out of the pulpit, sat me down in the front row and whispered, "Maybe this man is the face of Christ to you."

Like most of you, I'm usually the one doing the teaching, but many times it's not only our kids, or husbands or wives, or friends -- but also strangers and nonbelievers who have the words and messages we need to hear. During our time together, I was repeatedly amazed to hear this man's heart, his care for people, his earthy spirituality, and the countless ways he interacted with those God brought his way. The cab of his truck had been a place where many people had felt nurtured.

What a day -- our trip north had gone south, our car had become a stationary object, we had a splendid towing bill, and our plans got tanked, but as we finally limped back into our hometown, I actually felt refreshed, challenged, and encouraged. This man's authenticity, the unexpected time of fellowship, and the genuine connection were wonderful gifts. God's ways are certainly not our ways, and it was good to be reminded that God's mouthpiece is whomsoever he chooses to use.

One of the skills all leaders need most is to learn to listen to the messengers God places in our paths. We need our eyes and ears opened to the one who whispers more often than he shouts.

Here are some questions I am learning to ask as I relate to those around me: What does this person have to say that I need to hear? What assumptions do I have that need to be changed? What prejudices are still lurking in the darkness of my heart? What good things in myself do I tend to ignore that only others can see? What good is there in others that maybe only I can see?

What I've learned is that I have something to learn from everyone I meet. My kids held out two cups of hot chocolate, and one was for the scary man with the wild hair and the stubbly beard. That act of kindness opened up the chance for us to be the first to see and hear this man's beating heart scribbled on a crumpled piece of paper. This scene has left an imprint on me, one that I haven't wanted to wash off.

Steve Merritt is a longtime contributor to group and a counselor whose practice focuses on teenagers. He lives in Washington state.

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