(Names and details herein have been changed to protect identities.)
I knew my cheeks were glowing as red as my teacher’s cherry-painted fingernails. Salty tears rolled over my lips and down my chin. While I cried, Miss Winter towered over me, lecturing and wagging a polished forefinger at my burning face.
I wasn’t a troublemaker. So, why was I out here in the hall, trapped in a one-sided face-off?
The Trouble of Forgiveness Begins
It had all begun on the first day of school…
I was twelve, outgoing, and a bookworm; I loved school. I was especially excited that year because a new teacher had come to town – Miss Winter – and she would be teaching my grade. God was surely smiling down on me.
On the first day of classes, I watched expectantly as the youthful Miss Winter entered the room. She was blonde, willowy, and wore a fashionable, knee-length dress. She glided to the front of the class where she wrote her name in flamboyant cursive, which covered almost the entire chalkboard. I was impressed.
Until she spoke.
“There is one thing you must know about me,” Miss Winter said, eclectic bracelets jingling on her thin wrists. “I promise I will never lose your assignments.”
This seemed like a risky promise, but I was willing to hear her out.
“I only misplace assignments,” she said. “I never lose them.”
She kept talking, but the ringing in my ears from the bomb she’d just dropped on my fantastical expectations of her was far too loud for me to hear further.
Preposterous! Misplacing my paper is the same as losing it.
In hindsight, it’s possible Miss Winter was being facetious, but her humor was lost on my young, literal mind. I was having a difficult time forgiving her error.
Oh, but I wanted to. Her smile was engaging and her hair, silky – ergo, she must be brilliant. I quickly convinced myself that my teacher was, in fact, an angel with an unfortunate grasp of this one word: misplaced.
I tuned back in, just in time for bomb number two.
“And in everything, I am always fair,” I heard her say.
I had been around adults long enough to be sure that it was humanly impossible to be “always fair”, and the chutzpah to declare herself thus irritated me. Not even God is always fair.
This was a disappointing start to our relationship, which was followed by months of personality conflict and misunderstandings. Even so, I wanted her to like me.
The Moment of Truth
Late one afternoon, Miss Winter announced – lipstick shining and jewellery tinkling – that she needed one volunteer to stay after school to help her create a poster for our class bulletin board.
My heart leaped at the chance to impress her. I could draw. I could color. Maybe I wasn’t the best artist in the class – that title belonged to my friend, Tonya – but I was definitely someplace in the:
As soon as the end-of-day buzzer sounded, I approached Miss Winter’s desk to offer my humble service.
“Oh,” she said, pursing her lips. “I’m so sorry, but you live out of town. I’d have to drive you home, and I can’t drive my car on gravel roads. A stone could chip the paint.”
My parents had never worried about such things. We bumped along country roads in our brown, rusted Dodge sedan every day. However, Miss Winter was from the city. She drove what I considered a sports car. It obviously required extra care, in which case, I figured it would be logical for a town student to be chosen.
Opportunity lost, I hurried to catch the bus so I wouldn’t lose my ride home, too.
The next morning, I bounded into class to view the completed poster, which was already stapled to the bulletin board at the back of the room. I moved in to get a closer look.
Tonya came up beside me, smiling. “Like it?”
“Yah,” I said. “Who did it?”
“Me and Miss Winter.”
“And after,” my friend gushed, “she bought me an ice cream sandwich at the store. I got to eat it in her car on the way home.”
My eyebrows shot up, and my jaw dropped. Tonya’s house was even farther down gravel than mine was. I concluded that either my teacher didn’t think I was talented, or she preferred my friend’s company to mine. My chest felt suddenly heavy.
The buzzer rang. Trying to maintain composure, I took my seat.
As the morning progressed, the hurt in my heart deepened. Hurt became anger. Anger boiled my insides. By mid-morning recess, I burst.
Pacing the schoolyard with my friends, I vented about all the absurd things our teacher had said and done since the start of the year. They listened. I was still railing ten minutes later when the buzzer rang. We headed back inside.
Still shaking, I lowered myself into my desk.
“Class.” Miss Winter stepped in front of the chalkboard with her chin raised. “It has come to my attention that there has been gossiping going on during recess, including many unkind and untrue things said about me.”
My ears felt warm.
“I am aware that there were several girls from our class involved, but more specifically, this behavior seems to have been instigated by only one of you.” She looked straight at me.
I thought I might puke.
“So, Sara,” Miss Winter said, “would you like to discuss this in class, or out in the hall?”
One of the boys in the back corner of the room chanted, “In the class! In the class!” Another classmate joined in. Then, another. They banged their fists on the tops of their desks to the beat of their obnoxious chorus. Obviously, I chose the hall. My decision was met with boos and groans of disappointment.
This is how I ended up crying in the hall, being berated by Miss Winter for hurting her feelings. I really had no idea how to process what was happening to me. I just knew it hurt.
How I Forgave Miss Winter
Several days later, one of my family members invited me to attend a Prairie Fire revival meeting. I gladly tagged along. That evening, while the worship band played on stage, I began to weep. All night, it seemed, I sang and wept. I felt so loved in that place. I didn’t want to leave. The hurt inside me was starting to heal.
Months passed, during which I attended several more meetings, each producing the same results in me. Then, one day, a curious family member asked me, “Why do you go to those meetings? Why do you cry?”
I couldn’t explain, except to say, “If I wasn’t going to Prairie Fire, I could never say now that I love Miss Winter.”
I was surprised by my own answer.
Looking back, I believe God gave me two gifts during those revival meetings: first, he healed my wounded heart by his love; and second, he graced me with the ability to forgive a teacher who had humiliated me. And to not only forgive, but to love.
Forgiveness often begins as a choice, but I don’t remember choosing to forgive Miss Winter. It was simply a gift.
Flash to the Future
I prefer to live in a world of black and white. I’m comfortable there.
Forgiveness, however, is often gray.Tweet
Sometimes, both parties are right on some counts and wrong on others. Sometimes, no one is wrong but everyone is hurt.
This story, this memory of how I was hurt, was written from the perspective of preteen me. Today, at 36, I wonder:
If “Miss Winter” had a blog, would she need to write about her own journey of forgiveness toward one cheeky, venting 12-year-old many years ago?
If you enjoyed this story, go ahead and read Beloved: A Sheep-ly Story of Sanctification or Pepsi, Mountain Trails, and the Father’s Heart.
Sara Jane Kehler