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Quiet Strength Impresses Me Most

February 28, 2014

I recall a California car dealership radio commercial of years ago, done in a delightfully different manner.  In a different tack from the usually blaringly loud auto dealership advertisements screeching across the airwaves, this company advertised itself as being “on the quiet side of Burlingame.”  I loved the approach, and it reminded me that you can get just as good service from someone who doesn’t feel the need to scream for attention.

I remind myself of this as a Bible teacher.  Oftentimes the students who get the most attention are the ones who make the most waves, so to speak.  Maybe they’re the ones who get disciplined often. They might be the hand-raisers who sit in the front row and like to answer every question.  In any case, the higher-energy pupils seem to be the ones who grab the ear of the instructor.

And that’s a shame, because some of the most memorable students I’ve had are some of the quietest.

Jaimie came into the room this past week and quietly cleaned up my coffee1a pot and table before she went over and sat down, preparing for the class. I caught her activity out of the corner of my eye and it warmed my heart.  I truly believe she would have been embarrassed if she would have seen that I noticed her.

As we covered the John 18 passage and the arrest of Jesus, I saw Russ lean forward and zone in on the PowerPoint.  He nodded slowly and almost imperceptibly; he was taking it in without any showmanship.  Such are some of the scholars in my classroom.

It’s not limited to just academic realms, either.

Marjorie was a quiet girl who shunned high school athletics or the school theater, but wasn’t painfully shy, either.  She possessed a sweet and delightful singing voice, and would often sing a gentle solo at her small church or a nearby nursing home when called upon.  She delighted in helping others and impressed me with a quiet spirit, especially in knowing her parents.  Her mother was a foul-mouthed gossip and her father was a raging alcoholic who had numerous brushes with the law.  In fact, Marjorie’s dad had lost his license, and since he fancied himself a kitchen gourmet, would often demand that Marjorie would take him to the local supermarket where he would putter through the aisles, poring over the products in order to make a four-star dinner.  Many a time I would go by that supermarket parking lot and see Marjorie in the driver’s seat of the car, doing her homework, since her father steadfastly refused to let her accompany her into the store.  I once asked her how long she sat out in the parking lot and waited for him.

“Well,” she said quietly, “he usually takes about three hours, but there are times when he can get done in as little as ninety minutes.”

“Three hours!” I exclaimed.  “Marjorie, you sit in the car for three hours?”

“Oh, it’s okay,” she said.  “I get a lot of homework done.”  And then she would give me a small smile.

It was that smile that was curious.  It was a small but genuine smile that started from the middle of her mouth and raised across the right side of her face.  The rest of her mouth lay dormant.  A half-smile.  I had never seen anything like it.

Marjorie took on an afternoon job, went through her studies and carted her dad around at his every whim.  She put up with her mom’s bitter atheism and mocking in stride.  “My mom’s just confused,” she’d tell me.  “Yes, she gets angry, but we do have fun sometimes.  I love her to death.”

I happened to meet her dad once – he brushed me off with a humph – but I had not been able to meet her mother until one day Marjorie surprised me by showing up where I was speaking at a church service.  She brought her mother to hear my message.

Afterwards I was standing at the door of the church shaking hands with those attending and Marjorie beamed as she approached with her mom.

“This is my mother,” she said, putting her arm around her mother’s shoulder.

“Pleased ta meetcha,” her mother said, shaking my hand vigorously. “That was good, I liked yer speech.”   Then I saw it.

Her mom gave me a little half-smile.

“Don’t mind me,” she said as she grinned lopsidedly.  “I had a stroke a few years back, and my face won’t work really good.”

I stood there stunned.  Marjorie and her mom were identical in their smiles.

Marjorie loved her mother so much she had subconsciously imitated her mother’s stroke-induced smile.

This quiet girl would have no idea of her gentle facial love letter to her mother that would etch into my memory to this day.  Marjorie’s quiet testimony of Christ’s love even to the rough and cold world around her was – and is – a reminder of the silent and wonderful power of Christ that lies deep within many of the more gentle ones around us.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”  Isaiah 30:15

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