Stephen waited at the table across the hall. Kicking him out of class seemed like the right idea at the time, but he missed Zack courageously sifting through his thoughts, and he missed Madison shouting at the hecklers to “give ’em space.” I wished he could’ve seen all that.
Honestly, when I finally got to him, I was a little surprised he was there at all. Too many times, I’ve seen kids storm out of class and never come back.
We’d both cooled off. I could see as I walked up to him, he was scrolling through his phone totally calm, and I was riding the rays of sunlight pouring out of my classroom. A sunlight that exploded in the room the moment everyone started applauding Zack. God showed up in room 212 when I needed Him most, and I knew He’d be with me as I talked with Stephen.
I sat in a chair next to him, and he put down his phone. Leaning in with my arms on the table, I looked at him.
“Do you have something against me?” I asked, whispering. There were other teachers working around us.
He shook his head “no.”
“Then, why did you trip Laticia?”
“Cause I thought it’d be funny,” he said, smiling.
He leaned back in his chair, probably trying to give himself a little space.
“Stephen, I’m trying to do my job.” My voice got a little louder, and I pointed to the classroom. “It’s not easy getting everyone to actually think and care about learning in there.”
I was trying to look into his eyes, but he kept staring at the table.
“Stephen, look at me,” I said, and he looked up, but his smile was gone. “When you throw trash across the room and trip people, you’re making my job twice as hard.”
He nodded his head, and I could tell there was no more fight in him. But there was something else–he was sad.
“I wish you could’ve seen Zack,” I said, smiling as I tried to read Stephen. “He did something so brave. He struggled to think of an idea in front of the whole class, and when he finally got it, everyone clapped.”
Stephen nodded again, and I kept going.
“It was so cool! That’s what I want in there.”
I paused, waiting for him to look at me.
“And I need everyone’s help to make it happen, including you,” I said, pointing at him.
“Okay,” he said.
When I got up from my chair, so did he.
“Let’s go.” I pointed toward the classroom, and he walked where I pointed, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging low.
He reached for the handle to walk back into the crowd of 32 noisy students, but before he walked through the door, something stopped me.
“Wait,” I said.
He turned toward me, expressionless.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
He looked down at the ground, quiet, waiting for the words.
“My dad kicked me out last night,” he said, and he wasn’t crying or asking for help–just adding another sucky fact to the trash heap of his life–and we both stood there in the horrible stench of it all.
“I’m sorry, Stephen,” I whispered.
“It’s okay; I’m used to it.” And when he said that, I thought about what I had done twenty minutes earlier. I was another adult, probably in a long line of adults, kicking him out.
He was used to it? The thought was repulsive. I had no idea. Of course I didn’t. How could I?
But someone did know. The One writing my story, the Author of that moment, stopped me at the door. He was the One leading the conversation, and He could see past Stephen’s tough exterior deep into the heart of a kid who was broken. I knew why he stopped me.
“Stephen,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder, “I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want to be just another adult kicking you out again.”
He was looking down at the ground.
“But I need you to stop making my job harder.”
When he nodded his head, I patted him on the back and opened the door.
“Let’s get back in there,” I said.
But where exactly was “there”? That classroom was no longer a place I dreaded. It was a place I saw God stir up His magic in an extraordinary way and make something beautiful. My understanding of Stephen, like my understanding of that 7th period class, had changed. And the lie I believed about my year being terrible, like a dangling leaf in the autumn wind, broke loose and drifted away.
A few days later, Jaylon got up in front of that same 7th period class and told everyone how much he missed his mom. He spoke with courage about her death and remembered the way she made everything better. Everyone listened to him like they were family.
Fernando was part of that beauty too. I caught him helping one of the struggling readers in class find his place in the book we were reading aloud.
Then there was Elise helping Kyle with his paragraph just last week.
And when Preston asked for the bathroom pass that Darren was just about to use, I heard Darren say, “Go ahead, Preston; you go first.”
Giving up bathroom passes, being brave in front of peers and helping someone else read or write a paragraph may not seem monumental, but in a classroom full of broken people like myself, those little moments change everything. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” That’s my problem. I lean too much on my understanding.
My understanding was that 7th period classes are terrible. But it turns out, they’re places to find courage. My understanding was that Stephen tripping Laticia was an attack on me. I was wrong there too. That was his brokenness screaming out for love. Leaning on my understanding leads me in the wrong direction every time. But the One whose “understanding no one can fathom” (Isaiah 40:28) writes my story, so when a 7th period class appears on my schedule, rather than lean on my understanding and wait for the ugliness, I can trust Him and look for beauty.
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Beautiful testimony, Erin!
Thanks Elisa and Claudia! It is beautiful what God can do with broken people. Thanks for reading!
Wow! What a testimony to the work God does every day, even when we least expect it! Thanks for sharing this story!
Hi Tammy!! You are so right! It seems like God enjoys showing up when we least expect it. He is so good! Thanks for your comment and for reading the stories!
Thank you for taking the time to hear God’s heart in the midst of class troubles. You, through the Holy Spirit, are changing lives! You have so inspired me today to stop and listen to Him, especially when I feel frustration rising.
Thank you for taking the time to move on your students the way you do. You were such a gift to our daughter and she still says how much she misses her daily catch ups with you. You make an impact on your kids and i have no doubt God has put you in that school for just this purpose.
Thank you for reading the stories, Gladys! I miss seeing your kids around our school every day. God uses all of you to bring so much light. And it is such a privilege to be where God has me right now. Thanks for that encouragement!
You are so welcome, Brenda! I hear you on stopping and listening as frustration starts to rise up inside us. God keeps having to reteach me that lesson. Thankfully, He is patient with us. And it’s an honor to be on the front lines with you, where God is changing lives through both of us. Thanks for your comments and for reading! You are such an encouragement!
Praying for Stephen to know how wanted and included he is in the kingdom of God. You showed him that!
Nancy, thank you for praying for Stephen. These kids are so desperate for love, and their brokenness makes it hard for them to receive it. Your comments are always such an encouragement!
Thank You Erin, I know there were teachers in my children’s school that helped them through the abuse from their father. He was abusive to every-one in the house including me and I was happy that there were teachers that recognized it and they could talk too. Thank you for all teachers that have the courage to see and do somrthing, even if is just talking and asking the children how they feel. Thank you again Erin
You’re welcome, Melinda. Watching God pursue those kids and find ways to show them they’re loved is an incredible honor. And it’s incredible how God has walked you and your family through your own experience with abuse. He is faithful! Thank you for being so vulnerable. Your story is an encouragement to so many.
Wow! What a beautiful thing and such a good reminder how God works to move us to bind up the broken-hearted around us! Thank you for this Erin! Wonderful to see you and your beautiful family last month.
Hi Barb! Great to hear from you! We were just at a wedding and met a couple staying at your hotel! I got so excited and went on and on about you and your incredible hospitality. And you’re right about God “binding up the broken-hearted around us”. He pursues people with relentless love, and it’s so cool that we get to be part of that!
It sure is a treat to watch God do his work.
Hi Jim! Whether it’s in Serbia or in the middle of a public school, you know what that’s like to face a broken world and watch God work. Thanks so much for reading the stories and for reaching out. Love you, brother!
Thank you for sharing Erin. The light that shines from you through your stories is a gift for all of us. Please keep writing. It is such an encouragement to hear your words.
this was very powerful and inspiring to me and my family.
this was very powerful and inspiring to me and my family.I though it was about me but it wasnt but hes a very good teacher.