A Teacher Who Saw My Heart for Justice

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Today’s tribute is about Mrs. Winegarden who was my 10th grade English teacher. Mrs. Winegarden lost her battle with cancer a number of years ago, but I have held her in my heart all these years.

Mrs. Winegarden required us to keep a journal. She read all the entries as the year went along and commented from time to time. At the end of the year she made a career prediction for each of us and wrote it in our journals.

Mrs. Winegarden’s prediction for me was:

I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer!

I had written throughout the year about my faith in Jesus, about mountaintop youth group events, and even about my sense that I was called into ministry. I was sure that Mrs. Winegarden would affirm church-related ministry as my vocation. But she didn’t.

When I asked Mrs. Winegarden about it she said that in all my writing throughout the year I frequently wrote about “standing up for the underdog.” She noted that I was outspoken about things like discrimination and respect for all people. She said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if that became a centerpiece in my vocation.

While I still don’t think I’m destined for a legal career, I think she was right in some way.

In that class I wrote a paper about “ageism” and how children are often disrespected or mistreated just because they are young. Even then I was forming my attitudes about the kind of mother I would be. Today, as a mom I favor positive discipline and non-punitive parenting.

In a single journal entry I lamented abortion and capital punishment. Back then I was already forming an ethic that included respect for the unborn as well as dignity for convicted criminals. Nowadays I continue to scratch my head when someone affirms one but not the other.

I wrote in that 10th grade journal about the evils of racism, how bad stereotypes are, and my greatest ambition being to make the world a more loving place. It all sounds so idealistic now, think Jackie DeShannon’s “What the world needs now is love,” but Mrs. Winegarden was right that these types of concerns have been a big part of who I am.

Even in choosing to be a Deaconess, one of the hallmarks of Deaconess ministry is what we refer to as a “bias for the broken.” This means we pay particular attention to what Matthew 25:40 calls “the least of these” or what Mrs. Winegarden referred to as “standing up for the underdog.”

Maybe I’m too much on the fence to be a lawyer battling over rights like the ACLU does. I tend to look for quieter ways to make a difference, even if it is just one person at a time. But it means so much to me that Mrs. Winegarden saw that passion in me back then. I thank God for her insight into my future.

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  1. […] 10th grade, my English teacher predicted, “I see you as a zealous ACLU lawyer” because I had been outspoken about […]

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