“Get inside your classroom. And lock the door,” shouted my neighboring teacher at Smith Cotton High School.
A lanky teenager with thin, greasy blonde hair tangled over his face shouted a racial slur. With manic gestures, he slurred curses and taunts toward a tall, muscular black senior. Then he laughed, a weird, shrill jeer.
His target rushed him, like Goliath pursuing David. This David didn’t have the Lord on his side. He was toast.
With a scrawny arm, the drug-hazed youth tossed a hard, misaimed punch, then a second, as the hallway erupted into full-scale combat. My teacher friend tried to intervene. He was tossed aside like the books and other bodies careening into walls and each other.
How had gotten myself into this? I wasn’t a teacher. I was just a lost twenty-two year old with a teaching degree. That didn’t make me a teacher. I, too, was toast.
My kids couldn’t read. Julius Caesar and a collection of Francis Bacon essays were not book of the month choices. I was young and my life was a mess. How could I help them?
It was a quiet desperation. No one knew how I longed for a place to hide. It wasn’t that I couldn’t diagram a sentence with the best of them. I could write a fine expository dissertation on the theme of the Scarlet Letter. That didn’t count for much in the eyes of high school sophomores.
My friends of choice were about as mature as my sophomores. Parties, aimless and petty choices were diversionary tactics to hide the pain I thought had no cure.
Things shifted. At the end of every resource, at the end of every pursuit spiraling downward, someone showed up on purpose. Her name wasn’t in lights on the local marquee. But for me, she was a gate to God.
A man named Cornelius in the New Testament was a gate, too. He was an unlikely one. After all, he was a commanding officer in the Roman army and part of a despised Roman occupation. This man was no tyrant, though. He was known for his giving and his praying.
An angelic visit connected him with Peter. God worked on Peter ahead of time through a vision. Peter needed the vision because no one had ever seen the gate God was getting ready to open. All through a Roman centurion.
In the middle of a sermon, in a setting no one was sure he belonged, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius. A gate bigger than any one imagined opened wide.
Here’s my theory. The outpouring of God comes in response to someone on earth. Like a lightning rod, we can live in a way that attracts God’s attention and His response. Of course, we can also attract evil through prejudice and self-sabatoge. Hence the riot on a Tuesday morning in Smith Cotton High School many years ago.
It’s become my new prayer. “Lord, make us a gate for You. Help us live in a way that releases You, right the middle of our impossible.”
I’m expecting Him to show up. Why not now and why not through us? It’s a good time to be a gate. One that opens to more than we know or understand right now. I’m good with that. How about you?