Many artists have written songs about change. Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of my all-time favorites. There’s so much emotion and soul in this song. He wails about life — stating that “It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die, ’cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky.” This line is especially troubling because it suggests that he has reached a breaking point — a deep hurt that might only be relieved in death, but his uncertainty about the after life prevents him from succumbing to his pain. Also inherent in that line coupled with despair is hope that things will get better.
No matter how formidable our life’s challenges become, there’s always hope for a better tomorrow. The Lord our God is always with us, and he is mighty to save. There’s no other help I know. Because I’ve gotten to know him a lot better in recent years, things that seemed hopeless and incapable of being resurrected a few short years ago are now alive and thriving thanks in part to God’s subtle, repetitive suggestions that I surrender a few things to him because my mortal power couldn’t fuel the necessary changes that I could only hope for. He took seemingly simple situations to teach me how to forgive and remember rather than forgive and forget.
In my mind, I thought I had mastered forgiveness. I figured if I uttered those words and meant them, then I had offered forgiveness to those I felt had hurt or offended me. Little by little, God showed me that I didn’t yet have the strength to forgive completely. I was clueless. I always held onto a sliver of hope that I’d find closure — that my offenders would come to their senses and apologize or beg for my forgiveness. I know it’s silly to think that anyone would go to that extreme except in movies. What God revealed to me is that his hand is in all things — the offense as well as forgiveness.
I recall an embarrassing situation from many years ago that perhaps two people know about. I had been teaching for nearly five years and realized that I loved it. I moved to another state to get closer to my family. I accepted a job as a middle school teacher on a conditional license. I assumed my credentials would be accepted. and I could make this new town and school my home. I had a great year! Toward the end of the year, the principal told me how much he liked my teaching style and classroom management. He offered me a classroom and an opportunity to choose what I would teach next year since I didn’t get that offer the previous year. I was elated! Things were going according to plan — my plan. That summer I took a quick trip home to LA to share my excitement with my mom and to buy a few things for my new classroom. Upon my return, I stopped at my school to see if I could visit my classroom and begin setting up my room. The secretary gave me a look of concern that I couldn’t quite discern, but I knew something was amiss. She told me I needed to speak with the principal first. I had no problem with that. I could hear his voice in the distance; he was on the phone. I waited for a few more minutes before asking the secretary how much longer I’d have to wait. She looked outside, and I followed her eyes. We watched as this principal drove away. At that moment, I knew something terrible had happened. This lady and I had a great rapport, and I suspect, a deep level of respect as well. What happened next rendered me speechless. She told me that I wasn’t getting a classroom of my own and that I didn’t have a position for next year. I stood there frozen as I processed the first part, but I don’t think I really heard the second part. She called my named twice — the second time jarred me from my haze. It finally hit me. He couldn’t face me. He couldn’t give me the bad news after giving me such good news a few weeks earlier. I thanked the secretary, and left the building encumbered with bulletin board paper, border, and supplies for my kids. I dumped everything in the car and headed south on the interstate. I probably shouldn’t have been behind the wheel in that state of mind. I was confused, angry, sad, and shocked at the same time. I was also determined to find this principal, but I didn’t have a plan for that encounter. I did, however, figure out what I would say to his supervisor once I arrived at the Board of Education. She agreed to see me without an appointment because she interviewed me when I first moved here and vowed to look after me since I was so far from home.
When I told her what happened, she looked angry but not surprised. She apologized for the way things were handled but disclosed that this state didn’t accept all of my credits. She said that I needed six credits in order to be fully certified in that state, but there was no time. School would start in two weeks. I sat for a minute to process this soap opera which had become my reality. After an awkward silence, she told me to go home, and she would call me in a week. She kept her word and offered me a full-time position as an Algebra teacher at a local high school. I didn’t fall in love with that offer, but I couldn’t face being unemployed, and essentially I was. So I accepted the position and really enjoyed the first four days. At the end of the fourth day, this supervisor called me with yet another offer–this time to teach English. She said I’d have to interview for it as a formality, but the job was mine if I wanted it. The next day the principal of that school came to interview me during my planning period and told me I could start working at his school Monday. I celebrated that weekend because things were looking up.
Later that year, I was honored as Teacher of the Year. It was a big deal — not because of the honor itself. I had earned this distinction before. I felt vindicated–worthy of this honor after been dismissed without a proper dismissal. Interestingly enough, on the night of the Teacher of the Year banquet, my former principal, his assistant, and his teacher nominee all sat at my table. This was the first time I’d seen him since the day I learned my fate and watched him drive away. All those memories rushed back as he extended his hand to me and congratulated me. I didn’t yet know forgiveness at that moment, but I was intimately involved with self-control and anger management, so I didn’t embarrass myself or him. I wanted closure though–a heartfelt apology on bended knee begging for my forgiveness. It didn’t happen that day. I suspect it never will. Too many years have passed, and memories fade.
I think my hard feelings softened over the years –leaving space for reflection, revelation, and finally forgiveness. I didn’t see God’s hand in this at first. He used this principal to move me where I needed to go. I had accepted a promise of a new classroom as Gospel and was prepared to nest. God had greater things in mind for me. I was prepared to settle for this small thing, and God felt I had already mastered that small thing.
One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. ~Luke 16:10
After years of carrying the burden of that offense with me, I suddenly realized that things had to happen exactly as they did. I might not be here living the dream if it had not been for that principal. I thought about sending him a thank you note a few years ago — not to gloat, but to be in control of my long-awaited closure. I’m not sure if my message would’ve been received as intended, but I know in my heart that all is forgiven now. I’m free of those shackles, and my change has finally come.
Stay tuned for part three of this series tomorrow — Change Is Inevitable: Trust & Obey.