“Can anybody sit on this park bench?”
She moved to the far end without speaking, giving her father both space and distance. They sat silently for a few minutes.
“Aren’t you off work a little early?” she asked gruffly at last.
He smiled. “Yes, I’m off work early. And you’re out of school a bit early too. Say about four hours?”
“The principal called you? Did he tell you your daughter is a liar, a thief, and a cheat?” She fought back the rush of tears.
“No, he gave me some information.”
“What information?” she demanded.
“Whoa, girl,” her father said quietly. “Remember me? I’m on your side.”
She nodded silently.
“He told me you got a perfect score on your algebra test. Apparently, everybody else in the class either flunked or got a low grade. And your teacher discovered her master copy of the test was missing.”
She listened silently, watching him for some sign of what he thought.
“I understand she explained the problem to you and the class and asked if you had taken her master copy and/or would you be willing to take the test over again.”
“You make it sound so impersonal. She humiliated me in front of the whole class. Everybody was snickering and laughing at me.”
“Did you call her an ‘evil old witch’?”
She nodded, biting her lip.
“Colorful, if not exactly polite,” he said. “I doubt that helped matters much. Did you steal her test?”
“Dad!” she cried in exasperation. “How could you think that?”
“It’s just a question, not an accusation. Did you?”
“I believe you. Now that we’ve got the hard part settled, let’s go get a disgustingly rich banana split while we talk about the easy part.”
“The easy part?”
“Solving the problem.”
Opportunity in adversity
“Don’t look so gloomy,” he said cheerfully, plunging into his ice cream.
“I’m glad you’re so unconcerned that my reputation has been shot down in flames.”
He laid his spoon down and looked at her. “Daughter of mine, I’ll defend you with my life against anybody or anything at any time. I’m not insensitive to your predicament. But you can’t think straight when you’re as confused as a drunk octopus juggling marbles!”
She couldn’t help giggling at the silly imagery.
“See?” he exclaimed, making a grand gesture with his spoon. “A sense of humor makes you feel better. Did you know that all humor is based upon three qualities: the tragic, the absurd, and the exaggerated?”
“You’re being deliberately obtuse, Dad.”
“Obtuse, you say! I like that. Words are such beautiful and wonderful tools for building mental pictures.”
He held up his hands in mock surrender. “OK, let me give you two other words to consider. First, you’ve got to make up your mind whether you want to be a victim of this problem or a manager. You can have it either way, but not both. Being a victim is easy; all you have to do is load yourself up with anger, resentment, and self-pity. If you would prefer to manage the problem, you can do that by using a little common sense.”
She was intrigued, but skeptical. “How will common sense help me manage this problem?”
“Common sense consists of three elements too: a sense of humor, a sense of perspective, and a sense of timing. Instead of being angry and bitter, look at the problem from these three angles. For example: Why does your teacher think you cheated?”
She shrugged helplessly. “I maxed her test. Everybody else did poorly, and her original test copy is missing.”
“What kind of grades have you been getting in algebra recently?”
“Good Cs—some Bs.”
“Does that reflect your ability?”
“I just hate algebra,” she sighed. “But I buckled down and really studied for this test.”
He looked at her and grinned. “You’ve got to admit this combination of circumstances is good material for a comedy.”
She was beginning to be curious about his train of thought. “It is kind of funny in a crazy sort of way,” she admitted. “But how does that help me?”
He poked absently at the ice cream with his spoon while thinking for a few minutes. “Looking at this conflict from another perspective makes it look like a tough circumstantial case against you.”
“Tough? It’s hopeless! All my friends will laugh at me, and nobody will ever trust me again. It’s so unfair!” She looked out the window, her eyes blinking rapidly to hold back the tears.
He reached out and squeezed her hand. “Life can be incredibly cruel and harsh, especially when you’re young. But here’s something I would like you to think seriously about: Every form of adversity you will encounter for the rest of your life—all the pain, unfairness, betrayal, and disappointment— will also bring with it a whole set of terrific opportunities to manage the problem instead of being victimized by it. Just ask yourself two critically important questions: ‘How is God leading in these circumstances?’ and ‘What does He want me to learn from this painful experience?’
“Nobody can control all the oddball circumstances that come along. But you can control how you choose to respond. Keeping a sense of humor helps give you a clear head so you can find a sensible perspective about the issues. Later on, a sense of timing and perspective on how to manage the conflict will evolve.”
A sense of timing. She thought about what he’d said.
“I’ve always taken my reputation for granted,” she said at last, her eyebrows crinkled in thought. “I was flabbergasted when the teacher practically accused me of cheating. I don’t have to cheat to make a good grade.”
“A reputation for integrity is a fragile thing,” her father agreed. “Do you think you might have contributed to the doubt about yourself in this case?”
She nodded. “You mean that after making average grades all year, I suddenly put in a lot of hard study? But that’s so unfair!”
“I agree. It’s very unfair. But think further. Do you remember telling me you thought Pam was a tramp because of the way she dressed and talked?”
She nodded slowly. “Other than that, do you know anything about her that would make you think that about her? Did you consider the possibility that she’s insecure because she comes from a poor family that only recently joined the church and she’s still learning how to behave as a Christian?”
A stunned look of comprehension was the only answer.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he suggested, patting her hand. “You’ve just learned something of value— about her, about yourself, and about how easily a person’s reputation can be unfairly hurt.”
“I’ll try to remember not to be so quick to judge somebody on circumstantial evidence,” she said. “But how can I straighten out my problem?”
“You’ve got a good mind, so think about it and use me for a sounding board. Strip away all the excess fat and boil it down to clearly defined alternatives. What are your objectives?”
“That’s easy: keep my good grade, clear my reputation, and get back on good terms with the teacher.” She frowned. “I think one reason I felt so angry and defensive is because I like her a lot.”
“So what can you do to set the process in motion?”
“I guess I could offer to take another test. I know that stuff and would probably get a good grade again. But what if I didn’t? Then everybody would really believe I lied.”
“I wouldn’t think that. As for your friends, I think you have underestimated their confidence in you because you’re feeling afraid and defensive.”
She looked skeptical. “Maybe. But what if it doesn’t work out like that?”
He shrugged. “Then you’ll have to accept a very unfair situation and learn how to cope with it. Managing a problem doesn’t mean you always get a happy-ever-after ending. It simply means you do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with. The rest you leave in God’s care.”
Dinner was on the table, and she was three hours late when she rushed through the door, hair, coat, and enthusiasm flying in every direction. “Dad, you’re the greatest!” she cried, giving him a hug.
“Of course I am!” he replied in mock severity. “But don’t choke me to death proving it. Now tell me what happened at school. Are they going to draw and quarter you for assembly tomorrow, or make you wear a scarlet C pinned to your chest?”
“You’re being ghoulish. It’s better than that. First, I apologized to my teacher for calling her an evil old witch and storming out of class. Then I offered to take another test. That’s why I’m late,” she explained, talking rapidly between bites. “And guess what? I maxed the second test! A perfect score!
“And there’s more. After grading the test, the teacher looked around inside her briefcase for her grade book, and guess what she found?”
“I give up. A mud turtle?”
“Be serious, Dad! She found her original test sheet. She actually asked me to forgive her for doubting my honesty. She’s going to tell the whole class tomorrow.”
She paused. “I realized something else today.”
“I’m going to enjoy being in heaven if God is anything at all like you.”
He didn’t trust his voice to correct her theology.