I’ve been doing some substitute teaching. So far, I’ve helped cover planned absences – when teachers have scheduled something and provide the substitute with a lesson plan or detailed instructions. And I’ve pleased to find out that the teachers (at this school, anyway) don’t just leave busy work for the students. Some of it is quite involved and demanding.
I don’t actually “teach,” or haven’t yet. I take roll, give instructions, occasionally calm some kids down or break up a group that’s become a bit too chatty. But this school is an easy place to be a substitute. Parents are actively involved, the teachers are good, and discipline issues (so far) are relatively minor to non-existent.
In one of the classes, I saw a girl who physically reminded me of someone I knew in high school. The girl I knew was named Elizabeth, and was a year younger than I was. We met in the youth group of a church I was attending.
Elizabeth had one great ambition: to become a hippie. This was the mid-to-late 1960s, and San Francisco’s hippie culture was already legend. She dressed as closely as she could to hippie style without risking the ire of her father or people at church.
Perhaps because I showed an interest or listened to her, she started calling me on the phone, simply to talk. I couldn’t call her; she had to time calls when her father wasn’t at home.
She was funny, sweet, outgoing, and, as it turned out, severely broken. I knew her mother had abandoned the family, but it took months of telephone calls for her to tell me what was really wrong. Her father physically and sexually abused her.
San Francisco was not a lure. It was an escape.
When I suggested she go to the pastor, she said that she had tried that, but he didn’t or wouldn’t believe her. He thought she was making the stories up, she said. She was only 15, and didn’t 15-year-old girls have rather extravagant imaginations?
Her father was a church officer.
I was all of 16 years old, trying to help a 15-year-old who had no options. I had never known of this happening to anyone.
The church didn’t do what it should have done, and that made her brokenness worse. In Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength, Christa Black Gifford says that the church too often has figuratively crucified people in pain. “The emotional heart is so untrustworthy and evil and it must be ignored, crucified, or silenced,” she writes.
To be fair as possible to the church and pastor, they likely had no experience in dealing with something like this. And teenagers can be imaginative. But because I had gotten to know her over time, I knew what she was telling me was not made up. And I heard her father screaming once when he came home unexpectedly and found her on the phone.
One day she called to say goodbye. She was leaving – running away from home. We talked for a long time. I pleaded with her to go to a relative, neighbor, anyone. She refused; her mind was made up.
And then she was gone.
It wasn’t discussed at church, even in the youth group. We all knew she had run away, The pastor and her father knew. But no one talked about it. And they knew that I likely knew more than most, because she had told people I was the only one who listened to her. But no one ever asked, and I was shut down on when I brought it up.
I never saw her again.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Heart Made Whole. Consider reading along and join in the discussion. To see what others are saying about this chapter, “The Undivided Heart,” please visit Sarah at LivingBetween the Lines.
Photograph by Milana B via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.