Twenty years ago I walked across the stage of the Marietta High School auditorium to receive my high school diploma.
Next weekend I will be heading to the small Oklahoma town that raised me to gather with a group of people who I lived life with from age 6 to 18. It’s been 20 years since I have seen most of them. Gee whiz. Twenty years can fly by.
Over the years the number in our class fluctuated but for those twelve years of my life I walked my days closely with about 50 classmates.
Together, we sang our hearts out in our elementary school “Cabbage Patch” play.
I can close my eyes and still see “Otis Lee”(Greg) chasing the villain “Lavender McDade” (Laura) across the stage as “Colonel Casey” (Dustin) with his feathered wings is singing “Run, run, run Otis Lee.” The tune is forever etched in my mind.
We watched VHS movies (which was a rather new technology at the time)together every week in Mrs. Owens’ 3rd grade….because Mr. Owens owned the local Video store.
Then there was middle school together. 7th grade. I want to totally erase 7th grade from my memory. I was an awkward tomboy who didn’t fit in with the rest of the girls in my class who were into fashion, make up, and boys.
During those middle school days I became a sort of recluse. Though on the outside I might have seemed popular and well liked because I was a star athlete and president of our class each year of middle school….on the inside I felt all alone.
I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t like the others. Partly because I preferred to read the Bible more than seventeen magazine. Partly because I preferred tennis shoes to high heels. And partly because I was the town’s Baptist preacher’s daughter and wasn’t allowed to go to school dances (truth is…I really didn’t want to go because I didn’t like boys and I didn’t like dancing and I felt like it would be another place I would feel like I didn’t fit in).
Somehow we all made it through middle school…but not without a lot of us scarred for life from those wretched years of ages 12 to 14 that all girls have to survive.
I taught middle school for 5 years and some days all I had for the crying 7th or 8th grade girl that would come to my desk to share their heartbreak with me was “this too shall pass. It seems like a huge deal right now. And it is to you. But hang on sweet girl. Life does get better when the hormones settle and most girls get nicer…most girls…not all girls. And that boy that you are so in love with….promise he’s probably not that great anyway.”
Then there were the four years in high school together. I pulled away even farther. Those who were my close friends in elementary school and middle school moved on to other friends. I withdrew even farther into sports and school work and church activities.
Basketball and running and algebra homework and reading the Bible were my escape. I knew I could do those things well. Maybe I couldn’t do cool well. Maybe I couldn’t do beauty on the outside well (I still hated make up, fashion, and chasing boys). Maybe I didn’t get invited to any parties.
But I could shoot a jump shot like no other. I could run 20 laps around Circle Drive like nobody’s business. I knew more about the Bible than the typical 16 year old. And well I had a fantastic family that I loved being around on Friday and Saturday nights so not being invited to the lake parties didn’t get me down too much.
My junior year the unthinkable happened. In a mid season basketball game, I tore my ACL. My world shattered.
Sports was who I was. It was all I had. I didn’t have boys. I didn’t have fashion. I didn’t have coolness.
My identity was shattered.
I had built a wall around my heart and so I didn’t have close friends who knew the true pain my knee injury caused me. For the first time in my life, at age 17, I went into a deep depression. I felt a loneliness like I had never felt before.
For the next year and a half, I walked the halls of that high school smiling on the outside and trying to encourage everyone else, yet on the inside I was in a very dark place myself….I felt all alone.
I cried out to God in tears every night as I cried myself to sleep. (I am typing this in my local coffee shop and tears are streaming down my face because the pain is still very raw at times)
My parents did all they knew to do. They loved me. Cried with me. Held out hope for me when I had no more.
One day my senior year, I caught wind of some things that were being said by some girls behind my back. That night after a basketball game, someone also told me some of the things some parents of other players were saying about me in the stands during the game.
It was all I could take.
I remember that night like it was yesterday. I had scored 34 points. I had played my heart out. I had spent 3 hours a day for the past 10 months rehabbing my knee so I could get back to the level of playing I had been at before my injury.
I drove home after the game and my mom (like she always did) had grilled cheese and soup waiting on me. I sat down at the bar of that church parsonage where I lived my entire childhood and instead of eating I laid my head down on the counter and cried my eyes out.
My mom just listened. I told her I was going to quit basketball. That in fact I wanted to quit school and just finish my senior yearl from home.
I couldn’t take any more of the arrows of unkind words being slung straight into my heart. I was already battling depression and my heart felt like it was going to break into a million pieces.
I was ready to move on. I wanted a fresh start somewhere where no one knew me.
I don’t remember exactly what changed my mind…but I decided I would press on. I only had a few more months to survive high school.
As I reflect on those days….I get emotional still.
Yet it is amazing what 20 years of perspective can do for someone.
For the past twenty years, I have continued to walk in faith.
Faith that God’s Word is true.
Faith that forgiveness of others is the only true way to live in freedom in this world.
Faith that generates a love of all people…no matter how hard they are to love. No matter how they have hurt me. This brings peace to my soul…a peace that surpasses all understanding.
I’m at peace.
Peace with those who say hurtful things directed at me.
Peace with not fitting in with those around me. (I still don’t fit in with fashionistas or cool people…but I learned to like boys…one boy in particular who’s loved me for 15 years now even when I’ve been unlovable)
Thankful for my family and my hometown and my country. Despite the scars, I am blessed to have been raised by an amazing family in a great little small town in this great nation of ours.
Thankful for my childhood.Though there were bumps along the way, I’m thankful for the friends that I walked life with through my childhood. They helped to mold me into the person I am today. The friend I am. The wife I am. The mother I am. The follower of Jesus that I am.
When I think of all the orphans around the world who would give anything to have the childhood I had with a loving family, a safe community to call home, and a school where I got a free education…
I am quickly humbled and full of thanksgiving.
Tonight I laid next to my daughter as I tucked her into to bed. She was writing a Bible verse in her journal. It is a verse she has heard us quote a thousand times because it is a life verse we have spoken over our son.
When I asked her what she was writing down, she told me Joshua 1:9. We started talking about what the verse meant and I asked her if she has ever been discouraged.
And she went on tell describe a couple of situations at school with some other girls.
She’s only in 4th grade. . .I wanted to be able to tell her that it will be all better this week.
Truth is…it won’t.
People will disappoint her for the rest of her life. There will always be mean people in this world. As long as we are human…we will be misunderstood and we will misunderstand others. We will get our feelings hurt, and we will hurt the feeling of others.
The only way to survive is to learn to love and forgive.
I really can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I’ve seen most of the people that I spent my entire childhood with in that small town.
My prayer is that my jeans don’t make me look fat. My wrinkles can be covered with my foundation. My kids don’t embarrass me. And well….much more importantly.
That if ever there was anything that I did or said that left a scar on any of their lives that they too have found the freedom that comes from love and forgiveness.