A Letter to My English Teacher


In all the rush and craziness of finals, I wanted to take a moment to be transparent. This is a letter I hand-wrote to my English professor. The context is at Provence bakery I ran into my professor two days after a big paper she assigned was due (that I had yet to turn in), asked for an extension (which she graciously gave me), and then I failed to meet that deadline again.

Dated: April 28, 2015

Dear Dr. Burgess,

I am a mess.

To preface all of this, you probably don’t want to read these words - in fact I’m sure all you’d want to read from me right now (if you’d even still read it this late) is that darn research paper. But before I give that to you, I felt I should explain - if anything, to give myself the peace of mind of being understood.

In short, I have been a people-pleaser my entire life. Beyond the deeply disconcerting hatred of being misunderstood (one that has taught me to choose my words carefully), I completely dread the thought of letting someone down. That being said, when I approached you in Provence way back when - apologizing for not yet turning in my paper due to an overwhelming load and lack of time management (all true), that took everything in me. All I wanted when I saw you was to scurry out of that cute little French café for fear of seeing disappointment in your eyes.

I am a Christian, and in my seeking to follow the Lord and love Him rightly (with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength) I have found this fear of disappointment creep in as well. I struggle with the verse that says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” I simply cannot do that. I cannot “come boldly”, rather I cower forward, avoiding eye contact and glancing around for the nearest neon-red exit sign. I  struggle with that same feeling when looking to the cross. There, Jesus secured for me grace and freedom that I did not deserve… and daily I abuse that (and beat myself up for it).

All this to say: when in Provence, I was met with understanding and grace and sweetness in your eyes — I felt a tiny glimpse of the freeing mercy my sweet Savior gives to me. I grew further in my respect and admiration for you, Dr. Burgess, and determined to write the best darn paper I could to make up for it’s lateness.

The stakes were high and soon my procrastination, people-pleasing, and perfectionism all mingled into one monster as I overthought my entire paper and decided to turn it in late yet again, at the thought that “No paper turned in is better than a poor paper turned it.”

(Do you see how irrational I am?)

Soon the paper fell to the back burner, and I never explained any of this to you — or just hurriedly turned in what I had already — because I simply could not face the thought of looking in your kind eyes yet again, and admitting that I abused your grace.

(If you’ve made it this far in the letter, I applaud you — I know you have stacks of papers to grade already and my rambling is cutting in the way of that — you’ll only have to bear this a little while longer.)

I have come to see the error of my ways.

To properly function as a member of society, to perform successfully as a student, to keep my scholarship, and to rest in the peaceful grace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ — I need to get over this fear of disappointment.

I am human. I fall short. I cannot please everyone. And I simply hate myself at the end of trying to do so. I have three more years of college to go — I cannot break down every time I miss a deadline. These are issues I have struggled with my entire life, and writing this to you now is the first time I’ve fully addressed that and seen that I need to break this deeper root before moving forward.

And so, the paper. It remains a word document on my laptop, still unfinished. After putting this pencil down, I will go and finish it — to the best of my current ability — and have it in your inbox by sundown. I do not expect you to read it, I do not expect a grade for it — more than anything, it will be written and sent as the first step to breaking this cycle and mess that has disturbed my heart and mind for far too long.

In closing, thank you for your grace, and for your humor and passion for literature. It has been a joy to have you for English, and while this whole paper situation has not been a joy — it has been a deep learning and growing experience and for that I am grateful.

Mele Girma


To bring a little more peace to the Jesus matter I mentioned earlier, I wanted to note that in my relationship with Him I am learning to do less of the beating myself up. His grace is not some act of twisted abuse and verses like 2 Corinthians 12:9 are daily teaching me to rejoice in my weaknesses. His grace covers, transcends, and fully triumphs over all my over-thinking and crazy inner messes — and the trap of self-loathing is nothing but a snare in this road of sanctification. I am daily being made new, continually heading onward toward a destination where I have yet to arrive. Jesus’ words echo in my head,

“In this world you will have have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He is overcoming all that is not as it should be within me. He is teaching me to run to His grace — not from it — even when it is the very thing I fear seeing, the very gaze I cannot bear to meet. He gently, kindly looks me in the eyes, glances at my shortcomings and anxieties and whispers,

“It is finished.“

- Mele // @melgirm