As a Special Education Teacher, I am blessed to have help and support from other adults in my classroom. The Child Health Assistant (CHA) works with students who need assistance with eating, grooming, and toiletry. The paraprofessional (or “para” for short) helps with instruction, usually with those students who require additional prompting to keep on task.
The people in these positions have a high turnover rate since most see the position as a rung on their career ladder. This means that I have seen many faces over my twenty plus years as an educator. I have forgotten many of them for various reasons but I will always remember one guy. For privacy reasons, I will refer to him as Bill.
I met Bill several years ago when he showed up in my classroom one semester. He was a Substitute para for one of our regulars who was out for medical reasons. Bill followed the student’s schedule and moved with them throughout the day. He was very helpful with the students but seemed to go out of his way to avoid talking to me. This didn’t seem strange until the other teachers reported how much fun he was in the classroom and what a great sense of humor he had. I began to wonder if we were seeing the same guy.
One day we were in class, cleaning up after a science experiment when I asked Bill if he had heard about a new movie my wife and I were thinking about seeing that evening. He told me that he and his partner saw it last week and loved it!
Trying to extend the conversation, I asked him what his girlfriend’s name is. Now, in hindsight, I knew the word “Partner” means same-sex relationship but it was just a habit.
Bill looked at me, his expression changing to very serious and said, “His Name is TONY. I am GAY!” He left it like a challenge looking me in the eye as if I wanted to start something.
I looked him back in the eye and stated in the same extremely serious tone, “My wife was GAY before we got MARRIED!” His expression changed instantly from open hostility to puzzlement.
“What?!” he practically yelled. I then rattled off the following statements.
- My wife was Gay when I met her up until our wedding
- Her parents have been Gay since their wedding.
- Her sister was Gay until her wedding.
- Her brother was Gay but he went to court.
A slow grin started pulling on Bill’s face as he realized he was being given a riddle. I could see him start putting pieces together so I decided to give him one final clue.
“We had a Gay wedding!” After that, he figured it out. My wife’s last name was Gay. Robin Gay.
After that day, we started building a friendship, goofing around in class, high five greetings in the halls. After a few weeks, we found ourselves alone again cleaning up after an experiment. This time Bill began the conversation.
“P. I’m sorry I was so rude to you when I first started. I just didn’t want any judgment.”
Now it was my turn to be confused. I asked him what he meant. It turns out that I had a reputation. A reputation of being a Christian! It was around this time in my life when I began to try to “walk the talk”. I say “TRY” because many days I totally miss the mark. This was shortly after another teacher after I told her I was going on a mission trip in the summer remarked, “I didn’t know you were a Christian!” After that, I realized I needed to be more open about my faith. As a public school teacher, I know I can’t openly preach in my classroom and, frankly, my students could really benefit from a little Jesus talk. But, I began to express my faith in other ways. I wear a cross necklace that I bought on my first mission trip. I keep a Bible on my desk. I have an adult coloring page of a Psalm that my wife did laminated and on my bulletin board.
So when Bill told me I had a reputation, I became proud and ashamed at the same time. I was proud that what I felt in my heart showed on the outside but I was also ashamed because it made some people uneasy around me. How can I be an Ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) if I appear unapproachable?
As I asked Bill to clarify, he was afraid I would condemn him and his lifestyle. He had heard from several “Christians” about how he was a sinner, deserving eternal damnation! He was detestable in the eyes of God and how the Bible states that homosexuals should be put to death. He didn’t want that antagonizing type of conversation, so he chose to ignore me. He was tired of being told he was a sinner.
“You are,” I said gently. He looked at me, waiting to hear what a miserable human being he was’ “You are a sinner! So am I! Do you what the difference is between your sin and mine?”
Bill inhaled sharply, waiting for the condemnation. “What?”
“Nothing!” I beamed! “There is no hierarchy of sin, no one sin worse than another. Yes, you are a sinner but only in the same way as everyone else. Your sin is not better or worse than any other human being. I am a sinner and, in my mind, I probably consider my self worse than you!”
I continued on reminding him that even Paul, the writer of the majority of the new testament and whom some consider the UBER CHRISTIAN proclaimed himself the CHIEF OF SINNERS (1 Timothy 1:15). As a Christian, my job is not to judge others’ sin or to avoid those who have a lifestyle I disapprove of. My role on earth is to simply make sure that those people who engage in a sinful activity (that is, EVERYONE) are offered the same forgiveness of their sins that I have been. Not only forgiveness but a restoration of the relationship with the God of the universe in order that connection will continue long after the confines of this world.
Jesus talked about this in Matthew chapter 7 in his famous analogy concerning specks and logs. We tend to focus on other people’s faults and weaknesses, oblivious that many are doing the exact same thing (or worse). I had once heard that those things in other people that annoy us the most are the same things that we are most guilty of doing. For example, I hate it when adults swear around me, mainly because it reminds me that I can have a “potty mouth” at times.
Romans 3:23 tells us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is sin! There are no better ones or worse ones. All sin is detestable to God. As a sinner, you are unable to be in God’s presence. He knew that we are powerless to stop its devastation in our lives. That’s where Jesus enters the picture. By living a sinless life, he became our substitute. He took the punishment from God for my sins, your sins, all the sins of the entire world. He did this simply because he values us so much he wants us to be with Him in heaven forever.
The following year, Bill had moved on. He is now a Special Education Teacher at another school, which he and I talked about him doing.
Bill is a friend of mine. I enjoy talking with him and appreciate his sense of humor. He is kind but demanding of his students and will go out of his way to help others who need him.
Bill is a sinner and is breaking God’s law on a daily basis, so I pray for him. I don’t pray that he stops sinning any particular sin. I simply pray that he will accept the substitute, Jesus Christ.
Dear Jesus, let my love for you never turn away another. Let my actions be hope in others’ lives, never condemnation. Amen!
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