At the Podium

My palms were sweaty.  I stumbled on words, restarting sentences.

I paced the basement floor. Codie, our affable golden retriever, glanced up from her morning nap, clearly annoyed.

If this is how nervous I am within the four walls of my house, how on earth am I going to pull off a speech in the presence of the superintendent, my principal, and some community leaders?

 It was to be a mere thank you speech to the donors of a not so sizable scholarship toward a reading specialist course – plus a brief overview of the literacy program. 5 minutes, for goodness sake.

I had no issues in front of 2nd graders; it was speaking to peers or administrators that shook me. What if I tripped over wires as I approached the microphone?  I imagined losing my job once these nice people saw the clutz to whom they were giving their award.

I began to fold laundry to keep such thoughts from gaining ground as they had done my whole life.

In elementary school I had feigned invisibility.  It wasn’t until my senior year at Wheaton College where my introversion was forced out of its comfort zone. Speech class was a prerequisite to graduation. No Speech, no diploma – an untenable outcome which of course I contemplated.

The teacher was a tall bearded man named Em Griffin. He had kind eyes and a wicked sense of humor. Rather than facilitating whole class discussions, he broke us into small groups. He nodded affirmations and never put anyone on the spot.  Well, sort of.

One assignment was to “draw a crowd” smack in the center of campus. I actually did a make-up demonstration with a compliant football player dressed as a stout ingénue. Students stopped on their way to classes. The introvert in me was in awe. Dr. Griffin just smiled as if he knew I had this inner confidence all along.

So where was that confidence now? Thirty years had passed since Speech 101 and I was struggling to even PRACTICE my little talk.

The day inevitably arrived.  I sat through the luncheon, flanked by the who’s-who in my job, making small talk, oblivious to the introduction of the speaker who was to precede me – my heart pounding with increasing ferocity.

I caught sight of a gray-bearded man making his way to the podium. He seemed frail, yet when he took the mike, his voice was steady and confident. He spoke with passion about an outreach organization called Opportunity International that helped women in poverty start businesses.

There was something familiar about this man who embodied the energy of someone far younger. I glanced at the program.

It was my 1977 speech teacher, Dr. Griffin – standing inexplicably before me!

Well, maybe not so inexplicably.  I think God summoned Dr. Griffin to this podium to allay the nerves of a former student and to model how to connect with an audience.

I took a deep breath. There was nothing to fear. I would walk to the podium after Dr. Griffin and mimic the passion he was demonstrating.

And then later, I would thank Dr. Griffin for encouraging a shy college student to come out of her shell.

And for reminding a reticent grown-up to embrace life outside the shell.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

(2 Timothy 1:7)

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