As a high school senior, I took an advanced composition class with Lois Strock. I don’t think I have any of the stories or essays or poetry that I wrote for that class; if I do, they are in one of those innumerable boxes in the attic that I keep meaning to get to. But I do have a half sheet of paper of Mrs. Strock’s writing. She was leading us in an exercise on similes and extended metaphors, and she wrote, “Kate is a magnolia blossom … she looks delicate but is strong enough to withstand any storm.” I don’t remember if she wrote a metaphor for everyone in the class – I’m sure she did, but my myopic teenage self wasn’t paying attention. I don’t know what anyone else might have done with her metaphor, but this piece of paper has traveled with me for going on thirty years, moving from bulletin boards to scrapbooks to a box of notes and memorabilia I keep on my bedside table.
Mrs. Strock didn’t tell me who I would be someday – a classic misstep that adults struggle with when talking to children; rather, she spoke in the present tense. Nor did she suggest that I needed to do anything or change anything in order to earn this identity. Notably, she also did not say what profession I seemed destined for, though, at the time, I was desperately searching for someone who would answer that question for me. Instead, she named something even more essential about my identity. What’s also important to know is that she named me in this way at a time when I was having trouble believing in God, much less myself. But what she offered me was her belief in me, who she believed I was, and I understood that she would believe it for me until I was ready to believe it about myself.
I’ve shared this story about Mrs. Strock before, but she’s been on my mind a lot recently. And the other day in church, we heard this bit from Jesus …
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.”
Let’s be clear. Mrs. Strock isn’t Jesus … but like Jesus, she’s the best kind of teacher. The kind of teacher who doesn’t tell you the answer in a way that finishes the problem, but the kind of teacher who gives you an answer that points to all kinds of new questions and possibilities.
You. You are. You are salt. You are needed, necessary. You are light. You already are what the darkened world needs. You are salt. You are light. It’s not that you will be salt someday or that you will be light once you get all that other stuff figured out. You are salt. You are light. Present tense. Already. And a little light and a little salt can go a long way. A small offering is often enough. What is your small and necessary contribution? How are you serving those around you?
But maybe you can’t get to those questions yet because you’re still stuck on the first step. Maybe you aren’t actually sure about who you are, not confident that you are salt and light; maybe it’s hard to believe that you have something worth contributing, that your feeble light is enough for the present darkness. I know; I wonder too. When Mrs. Strock told me that I could withstand storms, I wasn’t so confident (and honestly, I didn’t really know that much about storms yet at seventeen). But two things happened – one, I believed that she believed. And two, I did survive storm after storm, large and small, in the days and years that followed. And so have you. And you are light, and you are salt. Jesus said so.