It was 1979, rural Highland County, Ohio and I was in the 7th grade. First year in the “big school” where 7th through 12th grade were combined. I was not the pretty girl, the smart girl, the popular girl, the super athletic, talented or gifted girl. I was just me. But I did have friends. At that time? 3 to be exact. But as you well know, pre-pubescent teens can be cruel. 3 would take turns being mad at the other and I was often the one sitting at home when I’d get the prank call from the other 3 who were spending the night together, while I was home alone. They were mad at me and I often didn’t know why? Looking back? I was likely slightly annoying with my having a comment about most things said, trying to fit in to the conversation yet still very socially awkward. I just found myself kind of lost and didn’t really feel like I fit into any of the “cliques”. And then the most horrific thing to a 12 going on 13 year old girl happened. Gym class! It was 7th and 8th grade girls combined. You HAD to change into gym clothes. Ugh! I had a huge birthmark on my shoulder and had not yet learned to love and accept myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed and didn’t want those girls who were rapidly developing to make fun of me for my body which was lagging way behind. I would take my clothes, wait until everyone else was almost done and then hide in a bathroom stall to change. As if that wasn’t bad enough? The bullying started. Out of nowhere, one of the big, strong, tough 8th grade girls (and her 2 sidekicks) decided they didn’t like me. They told me that they were going to beat me up, and made this threat often. They stole my clothes out of my locker room locker and would glare at me in the hallway as I saw one in my “missing shirt”. What had I done?!? Bullying wasn’t a thing back then. You had petty girl issues where we’d “get mad” at one another, and occasionally a couple boys would punch each other in a fist fight and get sent to the principals office. But in 1979 in this small school, girls weren’t often threatening bodily harm. I was confused. Why me? They were a grade ahead of me. I didn’t even know who they were prior to the threats. Why did they hate me? I started living in fear of a beating every day. And then, Tuesdays and Thursdays were the worst because it was “gym day”. First period of the day it started. We’d change for gym and I would try to strategically position myself to not be in the locker room the same time as Tina and her posse. That plan wasn’t working so well so I came up with Plan B. “Mom, I don’t feel good, can I stay home?” It wasn’t a lie. The fear on Tuesday and Thursday mornings would literally make me so sick to my stomach I’d often vomit. It wasn’t long until my mom caught on that “sickness” hit me every Tuesday and Thursday morning and by 10 am I was fine and ready to go to school (Gym class was over). I still remember driving in the car to school and her asking “Kris, are you faking sick because you don’t want to go?” Me? “Well, there’s these mean girls in gym class.” She asked “Do you need me to go say something?” Me? “No. I’m OK…” fearing it would make it worse. She hugged me, told me she loved me and to try to have a good day as I got out of the car.
While I felt out of place at school? I felt safe and loved at the small country church we had started going to the year before. I was part of the youth group there that my mother lead, and in that small country church I found love and acceptance. I heard a sermon one evening about God being with you. About his protection. And then one day it happened, and it had to have been divine intervention, Tina found me in the hallway by my locker. 3 of them to be exact with her towering over me she made some snide comment or threat and all of a sudden I found a holy boldness I had never felt before as I said “What is your problem?! Why do you want to hurt me or fight me? I don’t even know you!!!!!” Once the shock wore off her face that I was mad instead of scared, she replied, “Well your uncle slept with my sister and then left her.” What?? To which I replied with real empathy….”I’m sorry for that, I really am. But what does that have to do with me? He’s like 27 and I’m 12. I don’t know what he does. My uncle is obviously a jerk but what does that have to do with me?!?” By the grace of God it’s like it sunk in to her – Hmmm… yeah…. what DOES that have to do with her? She was just angry. Her sister had been hurt by someone in my family and so she wanted to hurt me in return. In some sort of misguided way she was standing up for her sister. I had heard rumor she didn’t come from a family where much love was shared. They were known to be tough and fighters. She was doing all she knew how to express her anger and hurt.
God reminded me of that moment as I ask people to come to church with me and they say no and then provide the excuse “I was hurt in the church once. Someone talked about me. No one readily befriended me. I saw her there and she still goes to the bar and acts crazy. Church is full of a bunch of hypocrites.” Yep my friends, sometimes it is. Church? It’s a hospital for broken people who are seeking God trying to find a little bit of hope and restoration in their brokenness. Whoever started the idea that the church was full of perfect people? Is a false idea. Our church has good, Godly Pastors who are teaching us the biblical truths. We have leaders in the church who are amazing and spend countless amounts of time, sweat and tears feeding the homeless, running a children’s program, preparing outreach events. But the sign of a good church? You haven’t stayed inside your four walls and have this perfected little body of believers who never sin, never fall short. You are outside your four walls, on the streets, finding the lost, hurting and broken and bringing them in. Showing them love and helping them find their way back. For most people? It’s a journey. For me? It’s been a continual journey of growth. We are Christians but we are human. We will need forgiveness on this walk. But even bigger than that? Why would you blame God for something someone in his family did? It’s no different than Tina blaming me for what my uncle did. Think about it.
Folks, I’m going to keep it real. The end of the day? You go to church to worship the Lord and feel His presence and get encouragement for another day, another week. If you are going for ANY OTHER REASON, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the friends I have in the church. We lift one another up in prayer, we have good talks and encourage each other. It’s good to see them on Thursday and Sunday. But if they all decided to treat me like Tina? I’ll never stop loving God or seeking His face and will for my life. It’s not his fault that someone in his family hurt me. Church is not a social club. It’s not a Starbucks with just really good people in it. When we lose sight of why we go, when we get easily offended, that’s when we stumble.
I will close with a football example to drive my point home. There are die hard Bengals fans where I live. They get mad at those “fair weather” friends (i.e. hypocrites?) who only love the Bengals when they are winning. But guess what? The die hard fans will continue to go the game with the fair weather fans and not think a thing of it. Why? They are going to see the Bengals and they don’t let the fair weather fans stop them from cheering on their team. Oh if we only had that desire in our hearts to get that close to God. That we would seek him no matter who we had to sit next to on a pew or tailgate with at the church luncheon.
I often get asked what my secret is? Why am I always so positive and happy? My joy comes from the Lord. From knowing he loves me and has a plan and purpose for me. I appreciate all my family and friends and they make me happy. But “happiness” is dependent on “happenings” and those ebb and flow. Happenings in our life can make us happy, sad, hurt. But a joy that’s constant? That comes from the one who is constant. “For I am the Lord. I change not.” Malachi 3:6
Be blessed my friends –