I’m losing my voice.
It happens to me about once a year. One time it happened on Christmas Eve. That was a bummer.
I remember losing my voice when I was teaching junior high school in Lubbock. It was my second year teaching west Texas seventh graders, and it was my first year to actually have a classroom. During my trial-by-fire first year of teaching there, I had to move from room to room each period, rolling all of my supplies around on a metal cart with wheels.
But, this second year, I managed to inherit what I considered to be the greatest classroom in the whole building. It was the only room with carpet, and the Spanish teacher who had occupied the space the year before had covered all of the cinder block walls with cork board. It was like the entire room was a huge pin cushion. It was awesome.
I had chosen a theme for my class that year–“Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” It was all about seeing things from other peoples’ perspectives, analyzing characters in literature, and considering how others live. I had scoured all of the thrift stores over the summer, collecting shoes of all colors, styles, and sizes. And I suspended all of the shoes from the ceiling of my room.
I’ll never forget the moment when, after I had spent two days decorating my room, hanging the shoes in what I considered to be a brilliant fashion, a female coach strode into the room, took one look around, and said, with a roll of her eyes, “Looks like someone’s got too much time on their hands.” Grammatical issues aside, that sentence just broke my young teacher heart, and after she turned on her heel and walked away, I burst into tears.
I was sensitive back then.
Anyway, the school year started, and the kids loved my shoes, by the way, and I was really beginning to enjoy myself. It was a completely different experience from the year before, with my own space and more freedom to be creative.
About halfway into the school year, I woke up one morning with no voice. I couldn’t even squeak out a tiny sound. I started to get a little nervous about how I was going to manage eight periods worth of rambunctious seventh graders without the power of my voice to help me out. How would I tell Jalisha in fourth period to keep it down when she walked in every day and assessed, Mrs. Edgington! It smells like booty and onions in here! How was I going to maintain control? How would I communicate what I wanted them to do?
The bell rang for first period, and the kids quickly figured out the situation. While I was sure that they would take advantage of my predicament, the opposite happened. They were quiet. They tried extra hard to pay attention to what I was trying to communicate. They leaned in and listened with more interest than ever before.
And something else happened. They talked to me. They talked to me more in that one voiceless day than they had in a whole semester of junior high school! And, I listened. I didn’t cut them off (couldn’t). I didn’t interrupt with my own ideas (couldn’t). I simply sat in forced silence, and I listened to what they wanted to say.
It was a glorious day of education.
I learned that I needed to be a little quicker to listen. I learned that my students had much more to say than I gave them credit for. And, I finally understood the theme of my very own room–that my ideas aren’t the only ones that matter.
I wonder if something similar will happen with my own children tomorrow if they wake up to find that I can’t speak. I wonder if I will listen better. I wonder if they will tell me more without my interruptions. I wonder if they have only my actions and not my words to go by, will they feel that I am communicating love?
Maybe there’s a reason that I lose my voice every so often. Maybe God is reminding me that I need to be a little bit more of a listener and a little bit less of an opinion spouter. Maybe I need to pay better attention to what others in my life are trying to communicate.
And, maybe it’s not such a big deal if the Jalishas of the world want to make declarations about the unpleasant odors in junior high classrooms. After all, “booty and onions” is quite a vividly descriptive term.
Maybe, just maybe, I can even hear God more clearly when I get quiet. I think it’s worth a shot, even if I wake up tomorrow with a voice that’s as clear as, well, as Jalisha’s metaphors.