It started when I was eight years old.
I remember making fun of a boy in my class. He and his friends followed me from school that day. I only made it half-way home before they grabbed me. The pack of three of them took turns pushing and spinning me between them. Dizzy, I stumbled. Fell. There was shouting.
That was them.
That was me.
I ended up in a garbage can. Humiliated.
And so it began.
I tried unsuccessfully to stand up for myself at school the next day.
Recess, under the watchful eye of a teacher brought threats which were carried out when the last bell rang. I barely made it off the school grounds when they caught me.
Sometimes there were just two of them. Once, I almost made it all the way to the school, running, but one of them cut me off. They pinned me against a neighbor’s house. Hands everywhere.
Each school day began and ended with fear. Inside the building, it wasn’t as bad. The ring leader simply said things to me… sexual things… things I shouldn’t know about at that age…sometimes, when the teacher wasn’t there, he and his friends touched me. Verbally stealing my innocence by filling my head with things I couldn’t even imagine but left me feeling dirty.
The bullying continued until I was around twelve.
And all I could do was run. The one time I spoke up, the boy received detention. I had slapped him in the face. He made up a story and the male teacher gave me detention too… for enticing the boy.
I was too young to be incensed at his behavior and lack of protection.
And early on, when I involved my mother, the retaliation was worse than the original bullying.
So much worse…
I quickly learned it was just best not to tell.
So I “tried God.” I figured he wouldn’t want a little kid like me to suffer like this, if He was real. So I prayed. I asked for it to stop. When that didn’t work, I asked for us to move, or for the other kids to move. When that didn’t work, I prayed to die. “And if I die before I wake” became, “Please let me die instead of wake,” for my bedtime prayers.
And yet I lived.
So at the age of twelve, I decided that God was not real and became an atheist.
I couldn’t believe that a loving God would allow that kind of suffering from one who turned to Him for help.
And four years later, when I was sixteen, I went to majorette camp.
I’ll never forget the closing ceremonies, and the motivational speaker I’d come to deeply admire and respect over the week. I agreed with everything he said. And he spoke of having hope, and purpose, and that we really were important as individuals – that our lives mattered. His words breathed life into the long-dying embers of the fire of life within me. I felt encouraged.
And then he closed his talk with, “but none of this even begins to compare to living life for the Audience of One, Jesus Christ. The greatest joy known to man is serving God.”
My cage rattled. How could he believe this? I didn’t know what to think and struggled with those closing words for many years.
At age 22, I finally decided to marry – and this was another man I deeply admired and respected. And he was a believer, also. And so much so that he wouldn’t marry me unless I believed as well.
So again, I gave God “a try.”
…and here we are.
And now, I thank God for the troubles of those early days.
Admittedly, at first I thought it cost me much to be thankful for those things, but now I see it cost me nothing. It was all gain, though I did not see at the time. The hardest truth to learn for all of us that follow Him is to be thankful in the midst of suffering. To claim joy in the middle of sorrow is so hard – we want to cling tightly to ourselves, to protect. But God means it all for good, in order to bring out His results, through the fabric of our lives.
Joy and thankfulness are not emotions that we feel, but rather actions of obedience that we take.
A spoiled, selfish child made tougher and humbler for service by the rough treatment of mean others gently offers these things humbly to you. There is no looking up without bowed knee. There is no honor without being brought low first. There is no question of will we suffer? But rather when will we? And will we dig in our heels and demand rescue with the sword, or will we graciously endure, with thankful hearts for the learning He has orchestrated for us? Will we teach those in our care the blessing of gratitude in the midst of suffering? The lessons are not mine to choose, merely my response is the option.
I don’t pretend to be perfect at this life, but I am honestly thankful for the stronger-tender heart the suffering created. What those boys meant for evil, God used as good to make me stronger – a different, hopefully better mom, one with deep relationship with my children, and healthy ways of dealing with wrongs – at least some if not most of the time. And if I don’t believe that He allowed it, knowing the outcome, then my God is weak and not worthy of my worship.
1 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
John 16:33 (NASB)
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Psalm 23:4 (NASB)
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
1 Peter 5:6 (NASB)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
Today, I humbly and gently suggest this dare, knowing fully that some of us haven’t fully healed enough to do it…but here goes… dare you to offer thanks for the sufferings of the past. Ask Him to reveal the blessings brought to you in the midst of the hardship. Double dog dare you to recognize that the current hardship you endure is intended for good, as well. Perhaps it will give you a new perspective. He’s working out our testimonies, one hardship at a time, birthing ministry from tears and pain. Join me, won’t you? Willingly go to knees in obedience and worship, asking for His guidance and teaching and joy in thankfulness of what we can’t even see now… can we trust Him that much?
If I had online tissues, I’d be handing them out here today. It’s one of those days where I somewhat reluctantly do what I feel led to do, but tentatively, wincing with the knowledge of the high cost of what He asks of us…and honestly, part of me is just waiting. Waiting to hear from my sisters who have suffered. Wondering how those poor women in upper Ohio survived the torture and torment of the last ten years. Praying to see Mercy revealed even in the midst of that horror… praying to SEE…
Love to you,