How many times have you been told, “You can’t do that”? I don’t mean you’ve been told no, I mean you’ve been told you can’t when you feel you actually can. We go through school, relationships, jobs, challenges and we are faced now and then with people who speak too quickly or off the cuff.
Growing up, I was part of a less than middle class neighborhood. Less than poor by many American standards. My schools were rough as we began each morning with a trip through metal detectors. You couldn’t even get into a football game without a bag check and a pat down. You could feel the abuse so vivid in the souls of fellow students, but you didn’t dare ask how that black eye came to be. If only we had just the parents to fear, but gangs were the majority in our world. Drive by shootings weren’t rare. Gang rapes were common enough that the neighborhood didn’t shut down when we heard of one. It was safer not to know.
It was heavy enough that I knew I needed to shove it off as soon as possible. I would not stay here and raise a family. I was 7 when I chose Jesus instead of my circumstances. I was in 7th grade when I realized something wasn’t right with my surroundings.
I remember going to my counselor and asking to be put in a higher math class: I was college bound. Even he thought I was crazy. He said in an attempt to joke, “you’re a bit too stupid for that kind of class.” I left his office and made an appointment with the principal. “Give me a new counselor. I won’t work with him anymore.”
As a teacher now, I can’t even imagine what the office said about me when I left. I felt like I stood up to that guy, but they never moved me into the harder math class. I didn’t press the issue because, in truth, he had shaken my confidence. So much so that I had to take an anti-math anxiety class in college. I sweet talked my way through high school math classes to get Ds. I didn’t realize how much I needed this counselor. In his awful plan and hateful words, he shaped me. Rather God used that crap to shape me into something stronger.
In high school, a girl said, “let’s start a Bible club.” I’ll be honest. It seemed like a strange club, but I like the Bible and I like a good fight, so when I heard that she was told “You can’t” by our principal, I got a lawyer. I was 14. I knew a lawyer from church and his office was downtown next to our school. I made an appt with him and started a petition. I took a notebook full of notes, went to the library to research a few court cases on his recommendation, and seriously thought about becoming a lawyer. Once my signatures were collected, I took my evidence to the principal. He asked the secretary to stay in the meeting as a witness. I asked to have my history teacher present as my witness. (I didn’t even know what that meant). I won. He agreed that if I agreed not to be too religious that I could have my club. And could my lawyer please stop calling him? Sure. 🙂 no problem, sir. The Bible club ended up being great. Read a little scripture. Do acts of kindness around the school. Good choice Mr. Brusa. You really were my favorite principal. Sorry my lawyer had to get involved. Thank you for telling me “you can’t”. I wouldn’t be where I am without you.
Tomorrow, I am going to teach at my church. It’s a mile and a half outside my comfort zone, so probably exactly where I am supposed to be. As I’ve been reading and researching about Nehemiah, I am emotionally tied to him more when I read about these three men who made his work miserable. They kept up the incessant rant of “you can’t, Nehemiah”. They threatened him and his family. They came at him with swords.
It’s amazing to me, his response. Nehemiah and his men (and women) didn’t walk away from this challenge. Instead they continued working, hammer in one hand and a sword in the other. Literally.
This is the kind of faith I want. When someone tells me, “you can’t” I want to pick up my sword and continue working. I want to remember who God says I am and to whom I belong. There are just so many things I truly cannot accomplish. Alone I’m nothing. But, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who gives me strength” and I can stand firm on the promise that “He works all things together for his glory.” “Whom shall I fear?” Certainly not some middle school counselor.