I started a new book this week, "How Starbucks Saved My Life." It is an extraordinary story, written by Michael Gates Gill, that speaks of one person's remarkable success, downward spiral, and then rediscovery as he becomes an employee (Partner is what Starbucks calls it) at Starbucks. I am not even halfway through the book, and I have already caught glimpses of my life and the life of the church in Gill's writing.
On page 63, Gill tells the story of Miss Markham, an elementary school teacher who told Gill who he really was.
"'I have made a decision, she said. 'You, Michael,' she continued, as though making a formal, public statement, 'are destined for greatness. I don't care what you do, or what you don't do. I don't care if you go to some prestigious college, or don't go. I just know: You are great.'
She sat back, dropping my hands, smiling at me.
I did not know what to say. I really didn't understand her point.
She leaned forward and spoke again. 'I almost never do this,' she sad, 'but once every few years I see some young person I feel has exceptional qualities. I want you to know that you are worthy. You. Not just what you do.'"
At church on Sunday, we started a new study in the 9:45 Sunday School class about spiritual gifts. As a result, I have been thinking about my gifts more this week. And, I have been especially thinking about the people who have named my gifts for me, giving me the courage to claim my gifts. I have thought about the Miss Markhams in my life - the people who have told me I am great - not for what I do but for who I am.
This morning, I give thanks for these individuals. I give thanks for Harold Bossaller, the person who told me I was a great public speaker as my FFA advisor in High School. I give thanks for Kathy Krafka Harkema, my first real boss who told me I was dynamic and capable as my work supervisor at the National Suffolk Sheep Association. I give thanks for my mother who always told me I was beautiful even when I was horribly overweight with acne all over my face. I give thanks for Hugh Cameron, my first field education supervisor at Benson Memorial UMC in Raleigh who told me I was a gifted pastoral leader. I give thanks for David Argo who told me I could be a lay leader for a church even though I was not yet 25 and some 10 years later told me that I had what it took to bring a declining church to life again. I give thanks for my Grandma Ivy who always told me how special I am. I give thanks for Wannie Hardin who told me I was one of the most gifted young pastors he had ever worked with. I give thanks for the members of First UMC in Hendersonville, NC who continued to name my gifts for me, entrusting me with so much, as their pastor in 2000-01. I give thanks for the students at Duke Divinity School who told me what a difference I had made in their admission process.
These people - all of these people - are the great cloud of witnesses that surround me each day. These people are the reason I had even ten percent of the courage needed to return to Washington and be a pastor. These voices are the ones I listen for when the voices around me seem to be filled with critique instead of encouragement. These faces are the ones I see smiling at me when others disagree with me. These people are the reason I am Reverend Donna Claycomb Sokol - a child of God trying hard to be faithful as the pastor of Mount Vernon Place.
Thanks be to God for the Miss Markhams of life. Who are your Miss Markhams?