Last weekend, I spent three days with 10 eighth grade girls on a back-to-school retreat. (There has not been enough coffee the past two days to make up for the amount of sleep lost on that retreat). Kidding aside, it was a wonderful weekend which kicked off what I hope to be a great school year. For the next 10 months, I will be one of their small group leaders on Sunday nights. Before the retreat, I thought “what ‘problems’ could eighth graders possibly have that truly matter in the overall scheme of life.” But as with many other things, the Lord opened my heart and revealed my own scars in my life. Scars that date back to middle and high school. As it turns out, the things my girls will deal with this year have the ability to profoundly impact their lives when they are 30.
I wasn’t particularly bullied in high school. No one pushed me down or stole my lunch money. But I was left out. A lot. When the only thing I wanted was to be included and to be normal, being singled out and being different left a lot of scars. I remember particular people who said hurtful things, or whose actions told me something different from their words. I remember countless times when my mom wrapped her arms around me telling me it would be all right. I’ve carried these scars with me for years. I didn’t even realize how deep they were until recently. Thinking back, the memories still sting. The trend of being left out in middle school continued through most of high school, and I never felt like I fit in. I wasn’t popular or athletic. I wasn’t artsy. I wasn’t musically gifted. So I floated through middle and high school being friends with everyone, but never having true friends of my own. My best friend was a year older than I was so much of my senior year was spent alone or with her on weekends.
During the retreat, I realized the hurt caused by a handful of girls some 15 years ago had left a mark on my heart. Repeatedly. I think back on high school with mostly bitter memories. Years of being alone and singled out. Years of feeling worthless and less than. I began to slip from my faith my senior year of high school. As a college freshman, I walked away. I left God and walked away from it all. For years, I lived for myself and for no one else. Only by His grace and constant pursuance of my heart was I able to return to Him. And here I am, responsible for speaking into the lives of girls who were my age when my scars were first cut.
The theme of the retreat was “proximity.” It’s hard to grow in any area of life when you’re alone. While I hoped “proximity” would come to mean something to my 10 girls, it ended up meaning something profound to me.
As the first day of school started Monday, I encouraged my girls to make amends with others and to confront issues head on. To take the first step. Reaching out first doesn’t always mean someone will take the same step. It might not work and the risk of being rejected or hurt is huge. But it’s the right thing to do. With openness and conversation can come communication and forgiveness. And with forgiveness, comes healing.
As I reflected on the weekend, I realized I was telling my girls to do something I hadn’t yet done. I don’t know if the girls who hurt me in middle and high school are even aware of it. It wasn’t a physical bullying, so there’s a real possibility they have no idea how deep my scars are. They probably have no idea how many tears I shed at my mother’s side because of my insecurities coupled with their actions. But I know. And I still blame them. But I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to repair my past so that I can help these 10 girls not have one.
I love how God uses a weekend of leading to work in my own heart and my own life. “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” -Romans 8:28
In what ways have you expected one thing only for God to turn it around and use it to speak to you?