(Flashback Friday) My Story Isn’t Over

New TattooA few people have told me I shouldn’t share this story.  Some fear it will give people ideas.  Others think it is too shameful to share.  But my reason for sharing is simple – I wish I hadn’t felt so alone all those years ago.

The picture is of my newest tattoo.  Call it a “stylized semicolon” if you will.

Project Semicolon is a non-profit initiative focused on promoting mental health and preventing suicide.  Semicolon tattoos are worn by those who have lost someone to suicide, those who love someone who battles suicidal thoughts because of mental illness, those who battle mental illness themselves, or those who themselves have survived suicide.

Why a semicolon?  It’s a punctuation mark used in place of a period when a writer chooses not to end a sentence.  The semicolon joins two sentences into a longer sentence.  As for the stylized portion of my tattoo – an eighth note in place of the dot – there’s a very simple answer.  Music became my lifeline during a very, very dark period.

We’ll call my bully “Oscar” (not going to use his real name because he doesn’t deserve that much respect).

I was about halfway through my 8th grade year the first time he walked up behind me in the hallway and muttered, just loud enough for only me to hear, “You know you’re worthless, right?”

I was stunned.

I stopped walking.  He went around me and continued down the hallway like nothing had happened.  It was the first time I’d ever had that kind of encounter with him.  But it was certainly not the last.

“Oscar” and I attended a small school – about 25 kids per graduating class – but we didn’t really spend much time around each other.  He preferred to play sports while I was already a committed performing arts geek.

To this day, I have no clue why he chose me.

From that first encounter, it just got worse.  Multiple times a day, he’d find a way to get behind me in the hall, close enough to say horrible things that only I could hear –

“Nobody actually thinks of you as a friend.  They are just pretending.”

“The world would be perfect if you weren’t in it.”

“Do us all a favor.  Just kill yourself.”

“Religious freak music nerds like you have no right to go on living.”

You get the idea.  At this point in my story, someone usually asks, “Why didn’t you tell someone?!” I tried to.  Once.  I hinted that really cruel, hateful things were being said to me on a regular basis by a fellow student.  I was told that I needed to sit down and talk to the student so I could find out what I had done that made him angry.  It was the first time I entertained the thought that it might be my fault.  (Side note – I never again went to that particular teacher for advice.)

I was on my own.  I knew that “Oscar” wasn’t the least bit interested in a sit-down.  And, after a moment’s reflection, I knew that nothing I might have done warranted his behavior.

Summer offered a reprieve and I started my freshman year, hopeful that he had moved on.  Or forgotten.

No such luck.

Every day.  Multiple times a day. A fellow high school freshman “encouraged” me to end my own life.

Three different times during my freshman year, I made plans to give “Oscar” what he wanted.

Let me be crystal clear – I made three different attempts to end my own life because I knew it would finally get him to shut up.

But I survived.  The “how” doesn’t matter much.  The fact that I’m still here 30+ years later is what’s important.

With about six weeks left in the school year, “Oscar” goofed.  I had started walking so close to the wall that my arm was practically brushing against the wall.  The hope was “Oscar” might back off if he had to risk others hearing.  His verbal attacks lessened but didn’t end.

Then it happened. He leaned in over my shoulder, risking having someone else hear as they walked by –

“You should do us all a favor and just end it.”

Her name – real name, this time – was Carla –

“Are you kidding me?!  Did you really just say that to her?!”

“Oscar” nearly ran down the hall.  Carla stopped me and asked how long “Oscar” had been saying those kinds of things to me.  I started to cry.  The next few moments are a blur.  Carla and I were headed to the same class so she walked me as far as the door, got the teacher’s attention and asked her to meet us in the hall.  I don’t remember what Carla’s explanation was, but the teacher gave us permission to be a few minutes late so I could go compose myself.  As I was in the bathroom drying my tears and splashing water on my face, the story spilled out.  Carla promised that she was going to make sure it all stopped.

Carla grabbed some mutual friends and simply told them “Oscar” had been messing with my head and asked them to help her make sure that I wasn’t left alone long enough for him to start up again. Walking to class, eating lunch, even heading to after-school rehearsals . . . I never had to worry about running into “Oscar” alone.  They continued their companionship into the next school year.

I would change high schools at the end of football season the following school year.  With the change of location, I got a chance to decide exactly who I was going to be.

So I got reacquainted with myself.  True, “Oscar’s” verbal assaults had ended, but his words had stuck.  They ran on a loop in my head that I couldn’t silence completely.  The only way to fight them was to drown them out with the things that brought me joy. I remembered how much I loved music.  How much I cherished playing the piano.  So I poured my time and energy into that.  Music became my life-line and the means by which I returned to a more realistic sense of myself.

In other words, I chose to be me.

Don’t get me wrong – life hasn’t been perfect.  There have been really dark moments when I forgot who I was and allowed others to try and write my story.  But I choose to keep moving forward.  Sometimes it’s only a baby step and there are still times I fight with the ugly words that keep creeping back into my head.  But my story isn’t over.

This new tattoo is a reminder of the whole experience.  A reminder that I have the strength to make a better choice.  And, hopefully, it’s a conversation starter.  A chance to encourage those fighting their own dark battles; a chance to encourage them to keep looking for a reason to take one more step forward.  The another . . . and another . . . and another . . .

Because the story isn’t over.

Reblogged: Epiphany – Sort of!

This thought shouldn’t be revolutionary to me.  But it did stop me short earlier today.  It shouldn’t have.  Unfortunately, the fact that it DID stop me short is proof that head knowledge isn’t necessarily enough to make a heart change.

In the Gospels, we are told that a teacher of the law came to Jesus and asked him which law was the most important.  Jesus answered –

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

Love the Lord your God.  Not be a perfect wife or mother, not keep a perfect home, not be a model employee.  Love the Lord your God with EVERYTHING you are.

I waste so much time trying to “fix” or “improve” my life by focusing all my attention on those problem areas/strained relationships/personal weaknesses and get frustrated when I can’t get the positive changes to “stick”.

But my focus is wrong.  It’s not that God doesn’t want to affect those areas.  He most certainly does.  But he wants my priorities to be right.  If I can learn to love him with all that I have – my mind, my heart, my soul, my strength – then he will walk through all those broken places and start teaching me, stretching me, empowering me, and motivating me to make the changes as a result of making Him the absolute number one priority in my life.

For so long, I have tried to “be good enough” and all I end up doing is failing those I want to be good enough for and frustrating myself when I do so.  This is the key.  Loving God the way it is described in the verse above will give him the place in my heart that he needs to effect positive changes in every other area of my life.  Think about – focusing on obeying that one law will talk care of ALL the others.  (Now to make sure I don’t forget that!)

Reblogged – Lighting a Candle

This was first published on January 1, 2015.  While it isn’t quite time for a New Year’s Resolution yet, this is a worthwhile goal to remind myself of yet again!

 

“It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

(Motto of a group called “The Christophers” founded in 1945)

The quote above is attributed to many people.  Just Google it and you’ll see what I mean!  It’s been used by former first ladies, the head of Amnesty International, and others.  The oldest record of the entire quote anyone can find is in the paperwork created when “The Christophers” was founded by Father James Keller.

The fact that this statement has been quoted over and over says something.  Something powerful.  And it perfectly sums up my focus for the year 2015.  It’s easy to rage on social media about things that annoy us.  We argue with one another in the “cyberworld” really well.  But it doesn’t fix things.  And it tends to leave the individuals involved in the argument all worked up.

Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe others get involved in the argument and then walk away, never to think of the issue again.  Maybe.  But I doubt it.

So my goal for this year is simple.  Whenever I can, where ever I can I am going to “light a candle”.  It may take the form of a financial donation or a shoulder to cry on or educating myself on a particular cause and then sharing what I know with others.  The actions may vary, but the purpose will always remain the same. I’m tired of the arguing. I’m tired of watching people make ugly assumptions about total strangers they are arguing with online.  I’m tired of the stress and grumpy attitude that tends to accompany that kind of negative engagement.  So I’m choosing, in 2015, to be a “candlelighter”, for lack of a better term. It is my intent to brighten up my own little corner of the world one candle at a time.

One Step At a Time

Been away for awhile.  Nothing major . . . it’s just multiple shows back to back and all the craziness a schedule like that imposes on life.

And it’s partly because I’ve been learning so much abut myself and a new approach to life and I’m not sure how to share it all! But here goes nothing.

I’ve begun a new workout regimen.  I know, I know.  Working out, trying to lose weight, . . . everyone tries, everyone fails.  Here’s the thing – I am 4 days into the SECOND WEEK of a workout program that I got through Beach Body (it’s called CIZE and if you have seen the infomercials, it is just as fun as it looks.  Maybe more!) and I’m loving it!  I don’t think I’ve ever made it four days in a row with ANY work out plan before, much less being four days into the second week!  Nothing crazy with my eating habits; I’ve just been watching my portion sizes and making smarter choices (fruit instead of junk food when I want something sweet, for example) and being very intentional about my water consumption.  Since it’s a Beach Body program, I have access to a coach online and my coach happens to run an accountability group on that site plus a Facebook page.

I’m still working on the reading challenge that I started earlier.  Turns out that taking 10 minutes a day to read is a FABULOUS form of self-care for yours truly!  I’ve read genres I don’t usually venture into and found some of them rather enjoyable.  A friend of mine created a group on Facebook for others doing the same challenge so I even have a group of people to help keep me on track.

Accountability.  It’s kind of becoming a theme for me lately.  From an intellectual perspective, I’ve understood the value of having others partner with you for various activities.  But the true worth of accountability?  For some reason, I never appreciated it or valued it much until now.  I don’t mean someone pointing their finger saying, “You had better . . . ” or “Don’t you dare. . . .”  I mean a person – or small group – that will be there to say “woo hoo” when you get it right, reach a goal, or finish a task OR that will help you brush yourself off and get back at it if you stumble.

We weren’t meant to do life alone.  If we are wise, we will seek out others who will serve as accountability partners for us.  I don’t mean sycophants who will tell us what they think we want to hear.  I’m talking about individuals who will cheer us on when we get it right or help to redirect us when needed.  These people need to use authentic praise where it is appropriate, words of encouragement when we’ve stumbled, and words of honest correction when we are out of line.

As important as it is to find people like this, I also want to learn how to a person like this.  Here’s to being more intentional about both.

Necessary Change

I’ve been away for quite some time because explaining where I am in my own personal growth is challenging at present.  I am finding my personal paradigms blown to bits with new ones being rebuilt that look nothing like what I used to think faith was and how it worked.  This passage – from Ted Dekker’s newest publication, “Waking Up:  How I Found My Faith by Losing It” – slapped me right in the face with an intense level of personal conviction.  I have so failed letting love define me and that has to change.  Read and do with this what you will; it’s just the latest step in a new way of looking at faith and how it affects my daily behavior.

“If there is one elephant in the room among most of us who call ourselves Christian, it is that what we think and say we believe and what we actually experience are all too often two, radically different realities.  Ironically, we ourselves are often the last to see this disparity.
We think and say we believe in Jesus, but we are anxious for tomorrow and cringe with fear in the face of the storm.  We think and say we love our neighbor and our enemy, but we court jealousy of those who have what we want, and we secretly despise those who lash out against us.
We are Christians from different denominations with various emphases in doctrine, yet in our daily lives we seem to be the same, often stumbling in darkness and feeling lost and condemning ouselves and those around us.
The evidence of our lives does not match our rhetoric.
Paul’s teaching was utterly clear:  The primary evidence show by those who know the Father is this:  love.  Jesus was just as clear:  Not just any love, but an extravagant expression of love that is kind to those who are cruel to us, not only those who show us love in return.  
As Paul wrote, a love that is patient, showing no jealousy or arrogance, keeping no record or wrong, not seeking its own and not provoked by another’s behavior.  These are the evidences of true love which flows from those who know the Father and his limitless love for them.
But it seems that we show all manner of evidence but the one that matters most.  We call ourselves Christian but we are not known for the kind of love Jesus said would mark his followers.  Have we lost the tune?  Are singing the wrong song?
We show the evidence of profound words to others, speaking truth in the tongues of men and angels, but we rise up in anger at our brother and are therefore as guilty as any murderer, as Jesus said.
We show the evidence of informed doctrine and all knowledge, having studied the Scriptures, and yet we do not love the lowest person as Christ, so our knowledge is worthless.
We may give all of our possessions to the poor and surrender our bodies to be burned and have faith to move mountains and heal disease, calling Him Lord, yet these profit us nothing if love does not rule our hearts.
We call ourselves born again, baptized in water and the Spirit.  We are diligent in taking communion, singing in choirs, serving the church, paying tithes, reading the Scriptures, fasting when called to humble ourselves, gathering in Bible studies, attending conferences, going on missions, voting for the right bills, and rehearsing our doctrine.
And yet rivers of love, joy and peace do not flow from us like living waters, and so, as Paul said, all of these profit us nothing.
Can you relate?
What matters isn’t our stated belief and doctrine but how we live and what we experience in the story of our lives, as Jesus, John, James, and Paul all make so abundantly clear.  It’s our actual experience and expression of life that shows us and the world what we truly believe and to waht extent we truly love, not what we say we believe or who we say we love.  If we say we have faith, but the working of our life don’t reflect that faith, that faith is either asleep or dead.  
This brings us back to the elephant in the room, easily seen by all.  We are not being who we say we are.  And if what we say we believe and what we experience in life are in conflict, we end up in misery.  One of the two must eventually yield.”

  

What I've learned . . .

This post is going to lean toward that disjointed/random thoughts kind of thing.  Nothing HUGELY profound has happened recently, but several small things or conversations have reminded me of lessons that life has helped me learn.  So here they are!

  •  Forgiveness is almost never solely about the other person.  Sometimes it’s not about them at all.  It’s about letting go of your “right” to get revenge and choose to move forward with a positive attitude
  • If you seek to be a positive person who looks for the good in others, you will sometimes get burned by those who are willing to take advantage of others.  But be a positive person anyway.  Don’t give the “users” any power over your attitude and perspective.
  • Not every one will like the work you do.  But if the majority of the feedback is positive, learn what you can to improve – because EVERYONE has room to improve – and move forward!
  • Your passion will not always be understood by others around you but don’t walk away from it no matter what.  Your passion is YOURS because it is what you are supposed to pursue.  You will eventually find others who share your passion and they will gladly share the journey!
  • If you need to take time for you . . . do it and don’t apologize!  Even the most social butterfly will find him/herself in need of some “down” time.  If you feel the urge to put on comfy clothes and turn on Netflix, then do it.

One of the college classes I teach is intended to be taken by education majors.  I tell my students all the time that it is imperative that they seek to learn new things for the rest of their lives.  So I’m grateful that at 46 I can have lessons reinforced and maybe even learn a new thing or two!