I found myself whispering, too, even though I wasn’t the one hiding in a closet while a drunken man beat on the door.
“Bridgett, it’s okay. You’ll be okay. You do not have to answer that door. DO NOT answer the door, okay?”
Bridgett cried snotty tears on the other end of the phone.
“But why won’t Tim just wake up? I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here!”
At fourteen years-old, I felt helpless to rescue the nine year-old little girl whose alcoholic stepfather had passed out on the couch. His friend knew she was inside the trailer and seemed determined to enter the home. I may not have been old enough to understand everything, but I knew enough to know something was sinister; when a child expresses that level of fear, reality lives in it.
So I just talked to her, sitting in the hallway of my parents’ home, cradling the old white phone—yes, attached to a cord, which was attached to the wall. In the middle of July, my parents were working, and without transportation, I couldn’t physically rescue her. But I could make her feel a little less alone and give her the option of not answering the door that day.
Ten years later, I worked for a TRiO program at a private liberal arts college. My job included helping underprivileged high school students excel academically and prepare for college. I supervised tutors, coordinated records with high school counselors, taught summer courses in writing, literature, and ACT prep material, and much more. I didn’t go to work expecting a student to disclose his homosexuality to me (he’d never disclosed it to anyone else before).
Jon, an attractive young man, sauntered into my office on a hot June afternoon.
“Miss Bethany, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”
Deep breathing. Lots of deep breathing. A very beloved friend in college had chosen me to disclose similar information during college, and I’d blown it. I mean, I had ROYALLY blown it and had responded terribly, making a joke of the entire situation because I felt uncomfortable. I always wished I could go back in time to respond differently; I just didn’t know any better at age 18. This was clearly God offering me a chance for redemption.
“Oh, Jon, that’s a major thing. Have you told other people? Do your parents know?” The kid was only 16.
“No. No one knows except my… well, sort of my boyfriend.”
More deep breathing. Trying to do the deep breathing without looking like Kristin Wiig on Saturday Night Live.
“Okay. I’m glad you told me. Do you need to talk about it?”
The lock on the floodgates broke wide open. I listened to his story for about 30 minutes. At the end of his story, I referred him to the counseling coordinator. When he left my office, I felt spent and grateful.
Fast forward another decade. While teaching college as an adjunct English instructor, I discovered students feel more safe writing out their secret horrors, traumas, and worries than they do talking about them (try encouraging a college student to schedule an appointment with a paid professional counselor or student services worker and check out the non-verbal response). And what do I teach? English composition and oral communication courses.
Since 2013, I’ve been gasping, crying, and praying while grading certain essays—and not just due to poor grammar and mechanics.
In 2014, I taught Esther, a beautiful non-traditional student. She worked odd jobs to support her children and family. After the semester ended, we kept in touch. She stopped by periodically with books for my daughter, cookies or other baked treats, and cards. She couldn’t afford these gifts, yet she gave anyway. Recently, her dream man (boyfriend) became abusive within their relationship.
“Miss Bethany, I just want you to know you were right… I love you, and I want you to know I’m taking care of myself.”
I shared my experience, strength, and hope with her and suggested options for self-care and protection.
“Esther, no matter what you do, I will always be here for you and love you.”
I could fill an entire book with stories like these (with names changed, of course).
I read an article recently about keeping the awe in our lives. I don’t know how to get rid of it because God keeps using me. God never stops tapping on my shoulder and whispering in my ear.
Every time, I’m blown away. I absolutely can’t breathe for at least a moment because I recognize if I move when He says move, something miraculous happens. What will it be? I don’t know! It’s a mystery. I love it. I just take action—which many times redeems my own past—and God fits me into a gigantic unfinished puzzle.
Let me never say no. Please God, let me say yes. Let me never refuse the opportunity to use whatever You have given me to help someone in need. Let my gratitude for my own redemption fuel me when I feel afraid, hesitant, or greedy.