(Ted replaces real name for privacy.)
January 12th isn't just my birthday, but a day I promised to pray for Ted, who was born on the same day.
Ted, a senior English student who graduated in 2008, was an excellent golfer, but a self-professed football player wannabe. He was the life of the party, the party being my senior English class the last period of the day. Ten of Ted's football playing friends in my class couldn't keep up with his facetious wit. Sadly, they all thought they were equally funny. But Ted was the only boy in that class of mostly boys, mostly "clowns," who possessed genuine humor. Much to my annoyance, he could usually get a smile or a laugh out of me when I wanted to remain indignant with the class's immaturity.
At the beginning of the school year I assigned a half page journal over a topic
I can't remember. To quiet Ted's whining about not being able to write more than
a fourth of a page, I agreed to allow him to illustrate the topic. As typical, he'd
written a ridiculously irrelevant response to the topic. Under a description
of a hostile teacher he drew a pitiably unskilled caricature of me. I am
extremely petite, under five foot. As I try to remember this picture, I think he'd
shrunk me to about a foot. But, I made a formidable presence next to the giant
stick figured Ted trembling in terror. My laughter distracted the students, some of
whom took the picture and ran with it (literally and figuratively) . Fifteen
minutes of teaching and learning down the drain, but, it was super funny.
I wish I'd saved a copy of that assignment or one of the many assignments on
which Ted drew various absurd Dodson and Ted depictions.
This class of "clowns," could be monsters, mean and defiant. Some days I
dreaded the class. Disciplining disrespectful students is an area of struggle
for me. At times it caused me to want to quit, begging God to supply me an
easier job. I'd lock my door at the end of the roughest days and sob on my desk.
Even Ted contributed to some of these tears, but, unlike many of his friends, he'd
usually make amends.
After days of forcing him to stop talking and read a novel of his choice during silent sustained reading, he finally relented with a copy of Robert Lipsyte's The Contender. Later when students were asked to write about their life's relationship with literacy as a state required portfolio piece, I was touched by
Ted's reflection.He said thatTheContender was the only novel he'd ever read straight through without cheating or taking some kind of short cut. In the margin of his essay, he thanked me for not giving up on him and apologized for giving me a hard time in class. His letter made me cry. I felt I'd at least done something right.
Towards the end of the year, during another silent sustained reading unit, I felt
called to make some Christian books available to students. Some of Ted's
friends were telling him he should read one of the secular novels, Mitch Albom's
Tuesday's With Morrie. It's a great book, but the mystery of Morrie's salvation
before his death bothered me. I wanted Ted to read something with a solid
Christian theme. Somehow I talked him into reading Alex Kendrick's Facing
the Giants. Although we didn't get a chance to speak one-on-one about it, the
book's direct biblical references seemed to overwhelm Ted. He'd stopped
trying to joke with me during that unit and seemed more frustrated and serious.
Because I believe spiritual warfare was rampant in my class at that time, I myself
was quieter, more fearful than I should've been. God blessed my obedience in
offering Christian books, but if I'd trusted Him more, they're might've been more
fruit. I can't say for sure if God wanted me to urge Ted to read a Christian book.
I'd let the others choose because I know spiritual interest isn't something I can
force. But, I also remembered Ted's personal narrative, another required portfolio
piece. He'd written of various problems with family finances and about how his
mom told him that they just needed to have faith in God to pull them through. God
was faithful to provide for their needs. I'd learned that Ted and his mother weren't
churchgoers, but I was encouraged enough by the general reference to God, to
urge him to read the Christian novel. But in pressuring him to read the book, I
worry that I might have done more harm than good. Did my pressuring him point
to me, the overbearing Ms. Dodson, or to Ted's loving Heavenly Father?
It seemed I had overstepped boundaries, as we were never quite as easy
going with each other after that unit. I was fine with Ted's quietness, but not with
his rudeness. The week before prom when grammar and Victorian literature
had as much relevance in my seniors' lives as last year's electronics, I lectured
them angrily about their lack of focus. Ted said something like, "We can't help it
you have no control over your class." The truth (even a partial truth) can hurt. He
was right. I had little control over that class. But, his arrogant refusal to accept
responsibility for his own disrespect angered me. I forgot all about God and
love in that moment and quickly bared the fangs and claws of pride and
pointed towards the door. "Leave!" I said, sending him to the office.
The evening of prom, my daughter spent the night with her Nana and my
husband worked. In celebration of Easter, and because I hadn't seen it in years,
I curled up on the couch and watched The Passion of The Christ. My plan was
to give it to Tamara, a student who'd started attending church with me, after
watching it. But God put a different student on my heart the moment Jim Caviezel
as Christ was flogged. As a painful lump formed in my throat and I turned from the
violent scene, a seemingly random memory popped into my head. I heard the
words "life lesson." Then I remembered at some point over the year when
assigning students an essay on a life lesson they'd learned Ted announcing that
he'd never been taught one. Of course, his comment was ridiculous. He just
didn't want to think and write. But, as I attempted to watch the rendition of my
savior's sacrifice for me, taking the blows for my pride and selfish sin, I felt an
urgent conviction in my heart to warn Ted. "This," I wanted to say, "is the life lesson, the most important life lesson you could ever learn!" That same night I
wrote a letter about this experience and a general account (nothing too personal)
of my own testimony to Ted. Although I felt filled with a tender energy that I take
as the Holy Spirit, my emotions have misled me before. So I prayed for God to
give me discernment, begging Him not to let me hand that letter and DVD over
to Ted unless it was His will rather than my own overbearingness.
Ted and I didn't speak much the last week of school, but as the bell released
that last class of the last day, I said, "Ted, come here a minute." He glanced at
his friends slapping lockers and dancing in celebration of their freedom before
turning to me. "What did I do?" he asked, lifting both palms. I wish God would
fix me so that I didn't cry so easily, but, that's usually the case when I share my
heart and God's heart with people. I handed Ted the slim brown package and
said, "God put you on my heart when I watched this. I believe he wants you to
have it." Ted said thanks, leaned way over to hug me, and joined his friends in
I prayerfully remembered Ted on my brithday, January 12th because this
is also his birthday. In the letter accompanying the DVD, I promised him that
every January 12th I'd pray for him, his family, and his faith.
But before last January, I saw Ted once more. Within the first month of the new
school year, I noticed him visiting with some administrators in the office as I walked
in to submit some printing requests. We hugged and small talked. I learned that
he'd received a golf scholarship to Cambellsville, a Christian college. I prayed in
my heart that he'd meet believers who could share Christ with him. Worried about
appearing too overbearing to him and the administrators (who'd admonished me
for supplying Christian books in the classroom), I didn't say anything about God
or prayer. But my heart was burning to. A deep, intense pressure burdened my
heart. The intensity of my concern for this kid overwhelmed me. Ted might as
well have been my own child at that moment. That's how powerful my love for
him felt as I smiled my goodbye, turned the door handle and walked away.
Today it's July 25th. School starts back in a week. Three months ago Tamara,
another student that God continually put on my heart that year, came to live with me.
Despite my many worries, God told me to open my home to her because, given
the severe problems she's faced, she needed someone willing to be a "fill-in" mom
and she needed to be close to a church family that's also taken her under its wing.
God promised me that He would supply the energy and He has. She will be
attending a Christian university, Cumberland, this fall. Once she is able to forgive
her past, I believe God will use her mightily for His kingdom.
On July 21 Tamara mentioned Ted's name out of the blue and asked if I knew
him. When I said yes, she looked at her cell phone and said, "Did you know
that he's dead? He died last night." Surprised by my sadness, she texted a high
school friend for more information. Later the newspapers confirmed that Ted was
speeding on his way home. He'd lost control of the car. The young lady Tamara
texted said that she remembered Ted as a happy person, always lighting up a room
and making people laugh. I immediately remembered the Dodson and Ted comics.
But, the pervasive, heart-ripping thoughts were, Jesus, was he saved? Did he ever
come to love you? Was I a hindrance or a help in this young person's spiritual
journey? Why did he die at nineteen?
I know that a person's salvation isn't dependent upon the effectiveness of
a Christian's witnesses. My perfect God repeatedly grants unbelievers opportunities
to know Him. Knowing this, I prayed that my witness would be remedied or, if it had
been effective, confirmed by other Christians. I envisioned Ted befriending
authentic Christian friends and boldly accepting Christ. I even pictured him marrying
a strong, Godly woman and raising children. But, I also remember worrying more
about Ted than I did the other students. He was as wild as most of the other
boys were, but I sensed a vulnerability in him, something that I couldn't
I've asked God to give me a sense of peace that Ted is okay, that he made
it Home. Though I sleep-in during break months, the Holy Spirit woke me at five this
morning. "Write," He spoke to my heart, "Write your grief, your worries, and your
love." So, I crept into the office which is now Tamara's room, placed a dress over
the lamp to prevent disturbing her, and began typing.
Now January 12 isn't just my birthday, but a memorial. I will always remember
Ted on that day. I will pray for his family and friends. Although I may never have a
clear answer regarding Ted's salvation, my heart is so tangibly full of love and hope for this young man that it seems like the answer. Though I know my job will continue to be a struggle, Ted's life and death have given me a richer reverence for the lives of my students. I pray for God to give me clearer discernment in how to point them to Him.
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