As the ornately embossed brass bell rang out in the orderly classroom, every little soldier knew what that meant. Everyone was to be seated with eyes to the front, feet on the floor, and mouths zipped shut. Any nonconformity was simply not tolerated.
Children quickly understood that foolishness would result in the crack of a ruler on the hand of an unruly classmate. Although the fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom, shaking in your boots all day long in school, afraid of a teacher tirade was no place for learning.
Imagine what I must have felt when I joined that first grade class, changing schools for the second time in the last year. I didn’t fit in with the high society kids of River Oaks Elementary, since we lived in a meager apartment in a Houston neighborhood of affluence.
The move from a spacious home in a middle class subdivision, with a den large enough for the massive Barbie house my aunt had built and furnished for me, had been difficult. It was especially devastating for me to be forced to give that beloved Barbie house away.
At my new school, no one wanted to be my friend, and I was absolutely terrified of my teacher. The oversized ruler used to dispense justice hung on the wall beside my desk as a constant reminder not to make a peep.
Just be still, do what you’re told and keep your mouth shut. That’s the way to stay out of trouble. And, oh, how I wanted to avoid being in trouble.
Only three months later, my father drove my mother, little sister, baby brother, and me to my grandmother’s house and left us. My parents were getting a divorce. Ripped from my familiar surroundings for the third time in less than a year rocked my world.
This meant another new school for me, but at least I had a nurturing teacher who took me under her wings. My grandmother lived in a farmhouse east of town, so I rode a bus to school along with students from all age groups. Little by little, I settled into the new routine, found some friends, and began to feel less anxiety.
However, that old pattern of staying out of trouble was set in my mind. In just a few months, sexual abuse that would last for years at the hand of my own father during weekend visits began.
Be still, do what you’re told, and keep your mouth shut was my coping mechanism for dealing with yet another terrifying situation.
Sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and touches can bring back joyful or fearful memories.
Thankfully, God has walked with me as He allowed me to relive moments from my past to heal my soul. When triggers resurrect painful experiences, I receive grace and peace as I roll them onto Jesus.
They are part of my story, but they don’t write the ending of my story. God is glorified when we allow Him to recycle our junk.
And, after years of teaching first grade myself, a bell on my desk brings order from chaos without a word.
Looking back through eyes of maturity, maybe that teacher wasn’t such a scary lady after all.
By Cheryl Neiswender