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January 20, 2014

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…
– Jaques, As You Like It, Act II Scene VII

We’re in a puzzling age of contradictions, and perhaps one of the list-toppers is a presentation called “reality television.”  Truthfully, how can life go on naturally when a slew of cameramen are present, filming otherwise private moments? Yet more and more people 1bbbare adapting their environments to emulate this type of lifestyle.  Philosophers call it hyperreality and sociologists fear it can alter the young generations into living a plastic pseudo-existence.  Live in a safe, clean life safely onstage with the limelight on you.  Be seen for how you want to be seen, never mind the grit of actuality.  Pretend the conflict is real; fight for applause.

Bible teachers face the challenge to make students see life as real, raw, touchable, joyful and yet sometimes painful.  Hyperreality puts the emphasis on the here and now. Why bother with the past?  The Bible is a book of eons ago; why should I bother with the bygone era?  For that matter, why worry about sin or discipline or being an example?  I can make up my own universe on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…

Rayna faced life head on.

She entered my classroom almost shivering with fear.

I first noticed something odd with the way she took notes.  To help you understand, let me explain that I require each student to buy a composition book and alphabetize it in order to create their own encyclopedia quick-reference guide. This will help them to be able to answer questions readily to those who ask about the Christian faith.   “A” for Angelology, “P” for Prophecies, “J” for Jesus … you get the idea.

Rayna’s composition book was fantastic.  It was a harmonious blend of color, each paragraph a delightful hue and each page a rainbow feast for the eyes.

But this was due to a form of an autism learning disorder, her mother told me.  “You might see her staring into lights for a period of time, that’s one sign, ” she said.  “The colorful notes?  That’s a sign as well. She’ll divide the page into colors, as you saw, because that’s really the only way she’ll be able to decipher her own notes.”

Interestingly enough, neither Mom nor Dad asked for any special favors for Rayna.  “She’s got to adapt. Don’t give her any special favors.” They loved her but they knew life after high school could be rough.  They wanted to prepare her.

In the middle of the year, it was time for speeches.  I assigned a two-minute speech about one of the miracles of Jesus.  Most of the students did a fine job of it; a few “uhs” and “errs” and hands-in-pocket mistakes, but problems that could be easily corrected in time.

It was Rayna’s turn.

She walked halfway up the aisle, notes in hand, but stopped.  I heard a distinct sob.  Then I saw her back shaking.  She couldn’t move.

I went up and put a hand on her shoulder.  “Come on back,” I said quietly.  “We can talk about this after class.”

She had collected herself by the time the bell rang.  She stayed back and sat down, looking at the ground.

“Rayna,” I said.  “I want to help you through this.  I want to help you learn how to give Bible devotions, sermons, your testimony…”

Her jaw was set.  “I want to do this,” she said, with a spark in her voice. “I want to learn this.”

I was taken aback.  Truthfully, I expected a fight, but there it was: Rayna was taking it head-on.  We practiced a bit between classes and once or twice after school.  I saw some improvement, but there wasn’t enough time for me to get full practices, and all too soon the next speech came up, this one about a Christian service the students had performed.  This speech was six minutes.

It was Rayna’s turn.

She marched up to the front, placed her notes on the pulpit, and grinned at the audience.  “Earlier this year I went on a mission trip to Peru,” she said in a clear voice.  “It was a wonderful time, and I was able to help missionaries assist in many villages…”

We were all amazed.  Rayna gestured, chatted, chuckled and frowned.  She was passionate.  She was persuasive as well as informative. The conclusion to her speech was in displaying a large cellophane bag.  “I brought a treat for every one of you,” she said, holding up a brightly-colored jelly candy she had pulled from the bag.  “Please don’t eat them during class.”  She handed them out as she concluded on how the Lord changed her life and helped her consider a future on the mission field.  At her conclusion the class erupted in applause.

Rayna had done it.  She had faced her challenges head-on.  Rayna didn’t want to live in a vacuum-sealed society.  She wanted the cuts and bruises of reality.  Proverbs 24:16 – “A righteous person may fall seven times, but he gets up again…”  Rayna was living proof of that.  Bravo, my girl.  You inspired me that day.  You still do.

P.S. Rayna gave me two jelly candies.  Such are the benefits of a teacher.


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