Quietly, she approached my desk and inquired about her quiz grade. I perused the papers in front of me and found hers.
“You made a 76.”
Her distress was apparent, burying her head in the palms of her hands. Normally, a 76 wouldn’t warrant such a response from this student, but today was different. When I asked her as to the reason behind her tears, she quietly responded, “My momma told me she was going to give me a whippin’ if I got anything lower than an 80.”
A smile formed across my heart; not because I was happy about her grade or her distress but rather because I know her precious momma and just how liberally the word “whippin’” gets thrown around down here in the South. I don’t think her momma would have whipped her for 76, but the threat was enough to spark a reaction in my student’s heart. I leaned over my desk and whispered to her, “What grade would spare you a whippin’?”
I reached for my red pen, marked out the 76 and replaced it with an 80. Our eyes locked, and we shared a tender moment as grace rained down to replace shame. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of joy – being able to erase what’s earned and, instead, to replace it with what’s free. I was reminded, once again, of the trust I’ve been given this year—to live my life wide-open before these young lives and to set the stage for, what I hope to be, futures lived with Jesus and with a rich understanding about his love, grace, and unmerited favor.
This moment arrives to my heart, too, as fresh grace—a red pen held in the hand of the Master Teacher who is willing to erase my whippin’ and, instead, grant me my reprieve. When my dignity (and my behind) is held in the hands of the Master, I can always count on grace. Not that I press the issue of my “76s”, serve up my “less” when I could do better; that would cheapen the gift. But on those days when a 76 is all I have to give, well, I can trust my Teacher to cover the rest of it, be it four points or more.
I don’t know if my student will remember this day in years to come, but I hope that she does … not for my sake but for hers. That somewhere down the road when she’s tempted to think that her good isn’t good enough (that a whippin’s coming because she’s failed to meet some standard) she’ll think upon today and remember that she’s worth more than what she deserves.
She’s worth God’s Son – a cross, some nails, a grave, and all hell – all because he loves her and has called her enough.
The red pen is in his hands, and he has changed her grade. He’s changed mine as well.
Grace. It looks good in red. It feels even better. As always …
Peace (and grace … and freely flowing red pens) for the journey,