Hubby and I will spend next Sunday morning taking our turn at teaching youth Sunday School. It's always an interesting experience. Sitting with a room full of teenagers is like staring into an abyss. You don't know what's out there, but you're pretty sure there is something. Some of the teens will speak up, others, like the two that we've been raised by, will sit silently and stare.
Yet, we're excited. It's always interesting to see where the discussion will lead, and this one will be particularly poignant to me. It's national anti-bullying month so the youth group leaders, and I have come up with a program which we hope will spark some discussions or at least linger in their minds. I'm collecting quotes from celebrities who felt bullied - we'll let them see if they can match them up. I'm also collecting quotes from fellow church members and leaders. I think it's helpful to see that people you respect and know personally have been through similar tough experiences. I remember as a teenager I thought all adults had it so together. Us adults know that ain't so.
Trying to discuss bullying is hard for me. I've been bullied, and I know how it feels. Frankly my teen years give way too much fodder for discussion in regards to bullies. I think if you have empathy then when something occurs that hits close to home with one of your own experiences, the memories can almost overwhelm you. Recently there was a story about a girl in Michigan (Whitney Kropp) who was "jokingly" placed on the homecoming court. The (not so) cool kids thought it would be "funny". @$%^^&!!! I instantly was transported to the teen girl who was invited to a party at one of the cool kids houses. Ohhh, I was so delighted. I remember vividly the new outfit - cream colored velour lace up the front bell bottoms (don't hate me - it was the '70's and I was skinny), with a blue top and a silver ankh necklace. I was prepared to become cool. But becoming cool isn't possible if you've been invited to an event just to be the court jester. I also vividly remember how it felt when someone purposely tripped me, and the entire crowd laughed hysterically at me sprawled on the floor. Still I was a little dense, and stayed on. At least I stayed until I overheard some of the girls. The words used to describe me will not be used here. But I knew then that it was time to leave. So I called my parents. When Daddy came to pick me up, I started crying and the poor man didn't know what to do. He gave comfort as best he could. But it's hard to be a teenager discovering who you are when others are so quick to tell you who you aren't, and can't possibly ever become.
Now this may sound like one small instance. One bad memory that I should "just get over". But I have years of examples of name calling, and ridicule, humiliation and hurt. And I have to say that I feel sorry for the bullies, too. I wonder now just what was so hard in their lives that they needed to feel this power and superiority at my expense. Of course, having sympathy for them is made easier by having a wonderful marriage, and two kids I adore, and close friends who love me - regardless of my outfits. Somehow I was blessed with the ability to get up and walk away from the bullies. It doesn't mean it didn't affect who I am. Do NOT put me in a room full of women and expect the real me. I revert. I don't mean to, and I try not to, but I am overwhelmed at the prospect. I wrote "A Kind Place to Sit" over a year ago. I still look for someone kind in the room. And even at my age, sometimes they aren't there. Some of the young bullies just grow up to be more finessed bullies. That's where mercy, empathy, faith, compassion, and forgiveness can all play a part. Maybe they won't change. But how we react, and what we accept as reasonable behavior can change. We can each show others a level of respect and mercy whether it is shown to us or not. And we can teach our children to do that through our examples. I've had a few of my former bullies become my friends on Facebook. Most of them (not all) seem to have grown up and changed their ways. As our pastor pointed out yesterday in his sermon (Happiness Happens to Those Who Are Brokers of Second Chances) - second chances are important. I think they may be more important to us than to them. Second chances allow us to grow and change. I pray that the bullies change, and may the bullied have the strength to walk away and forgive them.