As I stepped out of my principal’s office I was dumbfounded. How could she accuse me of doing something I had clearly never done? My actions had always been above board. Honestly, I was one of the quietest teachers in my building finding it easier to lay low among a rather opinionated, highly critical, and sarcastic staff. Her words rolled over and over in my mind following my annual review. “… and if this has anything to do with your church…”
I think I was being warned, or even worse threatened. No, that couldn’t be. I had done nothing wrong. Nothing. I just couldn’t make sense of the reason for her harsh tone.
While I had been meeting with my principal for my annual review I thought it would be a good opportunity to propose my idea of hosting a parent engagement night that would give my low readers an opportunity to show their growing fluency skills. I thought we could pay for the event with our government funding designated for this student population as it be spent on a meaningful measure that would help our struggling readers grow. And even though I had never spoken about my love for Christ, my church, or my belief that I was a teacher on mission under the direction of the Holy Spirit to her or anyone close to her, she was suspecting of me…, but why? Her questioning of me was out of the blue and rather alarming, indeed.
My day zoomed along like they do for any typical middle school teacher with 6 classes of underperforming readers. The kids carried on with their usual groans to begin our learning rotations… and I kept encouraging them one step forward.
After a few days of pondering and bringing this confusing interaction before the Lord, it hit me. Something in me was causing the insides of my principal to feel unsettled. My gay principal was feeling threatened by the Holy Spirit in me. It was true: I had never disrespected her, spoke about her unkindly in her presence or behind her back (though this was all too common among our staff), and I had certainly not gone against any of her staff requests. I had a feeling this encounter was leading me to approach her differently, or at least the way I had been thinking of being a “light” in my school.
I immediately began assuming the defensive position thinking that perhaps I would need to carefully scrutinize all my actions within reach of school so that her white glove wouldn’t pick up on any possible dirt.
To my surprise, my mentor Andre Benjamin proposed a viewpoint that pointed me in another direction. “You need to honor her, Jesica.” He went on to explain the powerful impact that honor would have on my administrative leader. “Honor brings favor,” he clearly pointed out. I needed to humble myself and realize that to gain her trust I would need to go low like a servant (Matthew 20:26) and that in humbling myself God would be faithful to exalt me at the proper time, according to James 4:10. I understood this to mean that God would give me the favor I needed to have greater authority to bring the Kingdom in various ways under her leadership, which was actually ordained by God. It was in 1 Peter 2:13-17 that I realized my teaching role in public school was subject to the government (which my principal and I were both employed by), but it would be my trust in God’s faithfulness that would help me do good and silence any foolish accusation that had come against me.
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Wow. God was about to teach me how to live freely following His heart even now in this current calling to go low and honor. Andre was right. Honor was about to make room for me to have another thought of my principal. The focus of honor is to lift another up and if I could do that for her, I would see her differently and in turn she would see me in a fresh light as well. But our paths didn’t naturally cross a lot, so what would that practically look like?
Andre took time to make suggestions for how I could up my honor game. As he went on the Holy Spirit revealed to me that honoring my principal was moving in the opposite spirit of her suspicion. She had come at me with accusation, assuming what she feared most. I would be returning the accusation with words of affirmation and sincere signs of gratitude for her leadership. I would be taking a stance that she wouldn’t expect and it would be coming from God’s heart, not my own carnal defensive response. My hope was that my stance would change everything in our relationship.
So I began right away making it my mission to honor this woman who seemingly had put me on trial. I began by asking God how he saw her. My heart began breaking as He revealed why she was so bitter toward Christians. My feelings toward her softened. I found myself naturally thinking of her with honor and respect from my heart, not just the fact that I should honor her because she was my superior. And then I began writing down words of encouragement, edification, and comfort in little cards several times a month and putting them in her staff mailbox. Sometimes I would drop a coffee card or a small gift of appreciation from Trader Joes. She thanked me every time and said I didn’t need to. I consistently responded that I wanted to, that she wasn’t thanked enough.
I had no idea how much my honoring her meant to her until the day came 2 years later when I took a risk to ask again to host a parent night. Even though I knew it could potentially cause us to lock horns.
But that’s not how it went down at all.
I had been praying for strategies to help my low readers cross the hurdle of growing in their fluency, while also capitalizing on public speaking skills, and provide an avenue for their families to also support them. You see the majority of my students had never found success in academics, and most of them didn’t have an outlet for a skill or talent. Their elective was taken from them because they needed my special reading class so as a result they had lost PE, choir, band, or even art. They really suffered without these opportunities and on top of it most of their parents worked more than one job and weren’t often home to truly give them the attention they craved.
My mentor encouraged me to dream with God about wild possibilities for solving seemingly impossible situations. I had a fresh God-idea to help these kids facing so many challenges. Using the extra government funding for our program, I thought it would be incredible if these kids could experience some success with reading in front of their parents. Two years prior I had thought my principal would think this was a great idea, but that’s exactly where I had been thrown under the bus. Now Andre was challenging me to dream even bigger and this is where the Kingdom idea came in.
What if I invited our youth pastor who was also a father, and an engaging speaker, to present a five minute message on parenting teens from a Kingdom perspective without using Christian-ese (I think he ended up utilizing “Loving Your Kids on Purpose ” by Danny Silk)? Pastor John’s message would be filled with laughter, connection, and offer a measure of affirmation as well as empowerment giving parents a few tools that would help bring order and honor to their homes. Then I could have my students perform their literacy skills using our reader’s theater scripts on the cafeteria stage. We could celebrate their progress with applause from the ones they wanted affirmation from the most: their parents.
So I proposed the idea to my principal and she was in full support of the event! In fact, she didn’t even show up the day of the event and that proved to me that two years of honoring her had earned her trust and respect for me, as a professional and also for the wisdom I walked in.
As an added bonus, one of my colleagues, who was also teaching the same reading support class for the first time, asked to follow my weekly plans and wanted to join in the event as well. She was interested in my faith, always appreciated my teaching plans (the plans God showed me), and she got to participate in an event orchestrated to execute God’s heart for families. It ended up a great success! Our parents and students enjoyed a delicious pizza dinner (that I prayed over under my breath as I served, believing that God would even use pizza to bless each heart), gained Kingdom parenting strategies, and the students grew in confidence that night showing off their newly found fluency skills.
Looking back I realize in the heat of the moment I had initially read the situation wrong. With time I could see her as Jesus did and was able to call out the gold in her earning a place at the table. Her trust in me opened a door for me to help families encounter a few of the King’s ways: order, honor, respect, and celebrating one another.
As we press forward to be teachers on mission, I pray that we would be reminded to take a step back and ask our Good Father, “What are you up to and how can I partner with you?” We might be working with people who need to see another side of the Father’s love through us that will heal their hearts through the power of honor— through the small gesture of timely notes of encouragement. I have a feeling that we really have very little idea how incredibly powerful our actions and words are when we’re following Father God’s leading! He’s using us as porta-temples of His presence preparing hearts to respond to the call of the Father to come home. And even if we don’t have the pleasure of seeing salvation come to the lives we pour into, we can be assured that God is faithfully pursuing each person; He’s taking advantage of the cracks in the hardest of hearts to pour in His healing love that can bring a shift in their lives.
One fun tidbit to add is that when I felt released to transfer to a different school a few years after the event, my principal was actually upset with me and she didn’t offer me any sort of warm goodbye. I felt the Holy Spirit again show me that she had grown to trust me, and the favor on my life, and she was truly disappointed to see me go. She just didn’t know how to show it. I thanked God for answering my prayer to show me what he was up to and how to partner with Him through the difficulties. He had used me to demonstrate His heart to my principal who desperately needed His healing touch.