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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wildflowers from Winter Blog Hop: My Personal Refiner's Fire

I'm writing a rare Thursday post in honor of my friend and critique partner Katie Ganshert's Wildflowers from Winter blog hop.  Her book, Wildflowers from Winter, debuted this month. To see my earlier review of this amazing novel, click here.

For now, here is one story of immense personal upheaval and how God used it to work things for the better in my life, or, in the metaphor of Katie's book, bring a beautiful spring bouquet of wildflowers from the cold snow of winter.

Refiner's Fire

"... when He Has Tried me, I shall come forth as gold!" (Job 23:10)

High school is hard enough without getting suspended.

The caste system is in full swing across high school gymnasiums everywhere during prom or homecoming. The haves, the have nots. The geeks, the jocks.

I was in 11th grade, being groomed for taking over the editorship of our monthly high school paper. Big deal, for those who don't know...or at least it was a big deal to the people in my circle. I was an honors student, involved in just about every club known to aspiring adolescents who are trying to "build a resume" for college.

Yes, I was one of those kids. And my parents were so proud of me. I have to admit, I was proud of myself too. 4.0. Principal's List. I was on my way to going places.

But I didn't count on Mrs. Garrett. History-teacher-slash-foiler-of-dreams.

She had a test scheduled that Thursday morning. A test for which I'd studied hard, complete with typed up class notes, highlighted in various colors to look like a bowl of Fruit Loops. I knew this stuff.

My friend, John*, wanted to look over my notes, so I passed them over. Mrs. Garrett started to pass out the tests, but John kept my notes until the last minute, well past the time the teacher said put everything away. She was starting down our aisle, and John passes them to me. Frantic, I slid them under my test.


Yes, I know. Dumbest thing I've ever done, I do believe. But in the heat of the moment, it seemed safe. I had every intention of removing the papers after she passed by and putting them under my desk.

God had other ideas. I had a lesson whose ramifications would take an emotional and social toil far greater than I'd ever imagine.

Mrs. Garrett remembered that there was an error on the test, and to my horror, she came to this realization right next to my desk. She picked up my test, along with my study papers, and scanned the first page for the error.

Would that it had been on the first page.

She turned it over, her eyes widened, and she whispered, "You'll see me after class." She found the error, prompted us as to what the test should have read, took my study papers, and put my test back down.

I took the test, sans "cheating" materials. [Made a 96, if anyone was wondering.]

I went to see Mrs. Garrett, and of course, no matter of explaining would avail me of grace. It was fruitless, heartbreaking, and embarrassing. I'd have to go to the principal and explain my actions and await whatever disciplinary procedures were in store for me.

Worse, I'd have to go to my dad's office....the Assistance Superintendent...and tell him what had happened.

I can still remember the look of absolute shock, disappointment, and then anger on his face. He'd have to sit in a board meeting and listen to his own daughter's name be called out under those who were suspended that month. My embarrassment was nothing compared to his.

An administrator's daughter was being made an example to the school on why you shouldn't cheat.

I was given the option to start my three-day suspension the following Friday and forgo the fairly important role I was to play in the annual school musical that Saturday (since I wouldn't be allowed on school property), or I could start it that next Monday. In addition, I was to be stripped of all honor society involvement for the rest of that year.

It was a no-brainer choice. I went through the musical in a fog, certain people were whispering behind my back about me. Because, let's face it, no news travels faster in high school than that of a soiled reputation. I missed Monday through Wednesday, relying on the few friends who stuck by me  for homework and class notes.

Walking the hall on Thursday was one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had. Traumatic, really. I didn't have to imagine the whispers. I heard them. The covert looks, covered mouths, giggles. My reputation and witness were shot, and hardly anyone believed the real story. John didn't help out at all...but in reality, I'd made my bed when I chose to put the papers under the test. It still sounds ludicrous to my own ears.

Sitting in Mrs. Garrett's class was torture. I began to truly hate her. I blamed all my troubles on her. She knew I was a good student, that I didn't need to cheat. To be honest, I harbored a hatred for her throughout the rest of my high school experience...and even today, writing this, I've had to once again give my pain to God, because I just can't hold it.

But my experience has stayed with me in vivid technicolor. Being on the receiving end of all that disdain, amusement at my expense, falling out with friends too good to associate with some misfit who got suspended for helped me develop an empathy and compassion for the downtrodden that I'd never have otherwise.

God was honing and fine-tuning my spiritual gift of mercy without my knowing. 

I now work with low-income, homeless families. Don't you think they know the stigma of holding up a road sign, asking for help? The hot flame of embarrassment that licks their face every time a driver pretends to ignore them on the street corner? The covert looks, covered mouths, giggles?

Well, I've been in the trenches with them. Yes, my trenches were full of tidal wave bangs, stone-washed jeans, and acne. But I still know what it feels like. I've lived it.

And my ministry, my work--my very life--is so much more effective because of it.

Let's Analyze: How has God used a painful experience in your past to bring about a glorious spring bouquet of wildflowers?