My rise from school dummy to straight-A student in 17 months was breathtaking and extremely physically exhausting – knocking me into the hospital for two weeks. To fulfill the vision and passion Mrs. Smith had imbued into me, I had spent long hours on homework every day —probably exceeding three times the homework time of my classmates. Then, during the summer between 7th and 8th grades, both in the hospital and out, this 12-year-old reflected seriously on the paradox of his extraordinary transformation. On the one hand, this intensely exciting and genuinely rewarding change was based ultimately upon test results that revealed there was a hidden genius inside of him, according to Mrs. Smith. On the other hand, to prove that test result, he had devoted extreme effort, 24/7, completely draining him physically. He could not walk, although his mind was racing.
The most nagging question: If I am so smart, why do I have to work so hard to earn my A's? How could Mrs. Smith be so right, even though it had physically knocked me out to prove her right? I also questioned: How could Mrs. Smith be so wrong at the same time, leading me to trash my health in order to achieve such sweet successes? I had to find the answer.
When I was well enough to take long walks, I set off for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: to see the graded test booklet that had so fired up Mrs. Smith. It was locked up in the strictly confidential section of the elementary school principal's office, under the icy, strict statutes of Hazel Van Zanten, who never liked me anyway, and the explicit standards of the testing company and the Board of Education. Someway, by God's grace, I believed I could find the answer to the paradox if I could see that graded standardized test. Ms. Van Zanten was there in the office and in her usual mood.
"No way!" My even taking a look at my graded test was against her rules. It was also contrary to the contract with the testing company, she said. I tried my sweet persistence for several minutes, with not the slightest hint of success. However, deep down this 12-year-old knew he was on a mission, so he made a radical proposal: he would completely empty his pockets, the principal would give the test to the librarian, and she would vigilantly watch as this 12-year-old leafed through his graded test for up to 5-minutes. MISSION MIRACLE: the principal and librarian agreed! Only the Lord could have opened that door.
Now I was on a race against time. I leafed through the booklet to find the mathematics section. It was just as I remembered, except that now, 18 months later, all the problems looked simple. When I took the test, all the problems looked very hard, and I had skipped 90%. So why did I get an advanced score? Look! The test grading was radically flawed! I had received credit for my few right answers, plus the 90% that I had skipped were counted as if they were "right." I quickly calibrated the correct score and examined the summary chart in the back to see that my true score was in the 2nd grade range – not the 9th grade range.
With amazing calm, I handed the flawed graded test back to the vigilant librarian, went back to thank Principal Van Zanten, retrieved my pocket possessions, and headed down the street – without giving even a hint about what I had discovered. Then, safely around the corner, I danced on the sidewalk! WOW! All my amazing 17 months of tremendous school successes had been sparked by a weird "clerical error." Of course, Mrs. Smith had still been a faithful teacher, imbuing her deep devotion and passion for learning into me. That was real and measurable – as were also my well-earned A's. Ironically, only when incorrectly graded did the standard test show my true abilities.
But how to process this discovery of the "clerical error?" Right there on the sidewalk, before starting home, as I was dancing, the Spirit of the Lord brought to mind a wonderful verse I had just memorized in church: God made him who knew no sin to become sin in our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God, in him. (II Corinthians 5:21) At that moment, I saw my 12-year-old life as a simple parable of that divine gift of amazing grace, of that "clerical error," of that eternal Truth.
For another 12 years I never told anyone what I had discovered that day. Each time I had a new report-card, while she was still teaching, I would stop by and show Mrs. Smith, thanking her again for believing in me. I never mentioned the "clerical error" to her, my family, my friends, or my teachers. Some gifts of God can remain deep secrets. However, this special gift of his grace further inflamed my passion for the Lord and deepened my commitment to honor and serve him in all that I do – especially to help "fill the earth with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).
In what secret ways has the Lord poured his grace into your life? You do not have to tell others, but remember to show your gratitude, especially to the Lord of all grace.