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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Change of vision…

One thing you need to know is that I really don’t scare very easily.  Being a road musician with a bit of a biker following taught me that.  I have had knives pulled on me simply for saying hello.  I have watched grown men set their shirts on fire while listening to our band play “Old Flame” by Alabama.  And never a proponent of violence to solve problems, I once tried to prevent a biker in an alley from beating up a cowboy while we were packing out equipment.

His girlfriend, who was apparently the jealous type, grabbed me by my labels and threw me up against a brick wall, noting another try at peaceful resolution would result in my own beating. But the next night, they all showed up at the gig with an official club hat and pin, and in a touching little ceremony, announced my honorary membership because I was, to quote the source, “a woman with balls.”

So you can imagine, with this experiential skill set, there was little about working with middle school students that was intimidating to me when I became a teacher. In fact, over the years, unusual personalities were often deliberately placed in my classes because I was “good with those kinds of kids.”  And perhaps I was.  At least until a transfer student came into my classroom in the middle of the year and filled me and my classroom with fear.

This young man entered in all black, a trench coat, a permanent sneer, and a defiant personality. In his first day, he mumbled incoherently, refused to answer questions, glared at everyone in the room, and spent much of his time trying to pop pimples on his face, directing the contents around the room.  And he let me know that he had absolutely no respect for me, which I sensed was something to do with my gender.  And it went on day after day.

I did something I had never done in my career.  I asked to have him removed from my class.

Of course, I had good reasons, right? I explained to the counselor that if anyone was ever going to bring a rifle into a school, this would be the person.  I reasoned that perhaps a male teacher would get a different response.  I tried everything I could think of, but her response was always the same.

But you are so good with these kinds of kids.

I am ashamed to admit that after my last failed attempt to get him removed, I walked down the empty hallway after school and in my frustration, I cried out to God Why? Why? Why?  I complained that the whole community spirit I had worked on so hard was being destroyed.  I worried all of our safety was at stake. And I begged God to do something that would get this student removed from my class.

As soon as that prayer was lifted, it was like the world took a breath.  Everything around me became still, and then I heard an audible voice of calm strength and certainty.

Who do you think put him there?

That stood me up. I had never considered that he was there for a reason, and I realized any change in this young man’s environment had to begin in me.  I decided from that moment on, I would imagine that Jesus had come to take up residence in this young man, and I would treat him accordingly. Literally, the first thing everyday when this student appeared, I would look into his face and welcome him as though Jesus himself had entered the room.

And a funny thing happened.  When I started receiving this young man in love and not fear, his classmates began to do the same thing.  It felt like that room started to become blanketed in love.  Weird and strange things still happened, but our response completely changed as a community.  He became accepted.

One day a few months later, my radio broke.  It mattered because I played classical music for the class when we wrote.  This young man came up to my desk and quietly said, “Seawell, I can fix that for you.”  And he did, almost completely dismantling it first.  When he was done and music poured out, I seem to recall the class cheering him on.  He became “the guy who fixes things.”

And not the guy we feared.

Living now as we are in a world so willing to demonize “the other,” I have found myself thinking about this young man.  I wonder if it wouldn’t change all of our hearts just a little if we could look at someone who is different and not react in fear.  I wonder if simply saying, Jesus, I see You there, might give us all the opportunity to embrace the sacred business of loving extravagantly as though each person we meet is Jesus himself.

Because in reality, they are.

And it took an adolescent and a change in vision to teach me that.

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Feb 20

I loved that, Char! I saw that John Roedel quote on FB a few days ago and it resonated with me. Your story truly exemplified it. Thank you.

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