So, I’m continuing to write stories to share with my daughter and niece who are middle schoolers…I actually had never shared this story from my middle school years with anyone. Posting it here for all the “world” to see took me days to do. However, it truly is one of the defining stories of my life and taught me the power of forgiving others who hurt me and offering grace to myself when I mess up….so here it is. Big step for this introvert to share this one.
I would imagine that if you polled women and asked, “What years of your life would you never want to go back to and live again?” a high percentage of them would answer, “Middle School.” Many would have a story or two from their early teenage years that they would never want to relive.
I am no exception.
Middle school were the years in my life where I found myself realizing being a rule follower, that loved learning and who wanted to be nice to everyone was not as popular as it was in elementary school. My introverted personality coupled with my high moral standards meant that I found myself excluded from conversations and party invitations.
I was a “normal,” middle school girl trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in in the world.
Up until middle school, I never remember a time where I got in trouble at school. Being a rule follower who loved learning and had high personal standards for achievement, just the thought of getting in trouble kept me from doing anything that might warrant a correction from a teacher or principal.
However, there was one fateful day that this all changed. A day that is forever etched in my memory.
There was a substitute teacher in one of my classes. Because there wasn’t really an assignment to work on, we were told that we could talk quietly in class. I don’t remember how it all started, but someone sitting near me came up with the idea that we should pull a prank on someone.
In my middle school mind, the prank seemed harmless. Write a fake love note from an secret admirer to someone and slip it in their locker.
We all chimed in with things to write on the love note and decided on who would be fun to prank with the note. I remember only agreeing to the person we would prank because she was popular and wouldn’t think we were making fun of her. Other names mentioned, I knew were only being suggested so that they would be made fun of as they read the note and I would not agree to that.
I remember being uncomfortable with a few of the phrases that were written on the note, one being, “Sealed with a French kiss.” In fact, I was quite naive in middle school and likely didn’t even know what a French kiss or other phrases in the note really meant. However, I convinced myself that it seemed harmless and I shouldn’t worry. In my mind the person would simply find the note, be in shock for a moment and then we would clue her in that it was just a joke.
I never imagined the extent of chaos a little note could cause in my young life. I had no idea that it would teach me a lesson that I would never forget.
The prank did not go quite as I had imagined. The note was opened and read during a passing period and the emotion of the one reading the note caused quite a stir as she read it out loud to a few friends in the hallway. A teacher came to see what was going on and saw the note and snatched it.
My rule following heart sunk to my feet as I watched. We were all told to go to class. I remember thinking that surely it wasn’t that big a deal. I mean I knew the extent of “bad behavior” of some of my classmates, and this seemed super mild in my mind.
I was wrong.
The teacher who confiscated the note took it to her next class period read the note aloud and told the class that if someone didn’t tell her who had written the note, that the class field trip would be cancelled. Someone in that class knew who all had been in on helping with the prank and all the offenders were named in front of the entire class.
During the next passing period we were called to that teacher’s room and she talked to us about how disappointed she was in all of us. She explained that it should not ever happen again and that we had almost cost the class field trip. She told us that another teacher was going to read the note aloud to all her classes, and we would each be named as the authors and that teacher was going to give us a written assignment as a punishment.
I was so confused. I struggled to understand how this “crime” had been so bad that an entire field trip was at stake. We were not given an opportunity to explain our intentions of the prank or our involvement in it. We were branded as a group of offenders and immediately paying the penalty of our crime.
I was totally embarrassed and wanted to run home and cry my eyes out as I thought about going to my next class and hearing the note read aloud to all my classmates and being identified as one of the authors.
Since running home was not an option, I made my way to my next class and sat in terror anticipating the teacher reading the note aloud. Sure enough, in the last five minutes of class, she pulled the note out. She explained that she needed to make an example out of the situation
With every word that was read, I sunk deep in my chair wanting to crawl under my desk. The guilt and shame of what I had been a part of was already a heavy load and having my offense used as an example to an entire school was more than I could take. Tears filled my eyes but I was able to disguise them so that no one would know how deeply I was hurting in that moment.
As the bell rang, the teacher called out the couple of names of people in that class who had been a part of writing the note and asked us to meet her at her desk to get the writing assignment that was our punishment.
I remember the moment of her calling my name like it was yesterday. I can vividly recall seeing all the eyes in the class turning to me in disbelief and hearing their laughter. I’m sure they were all in shock because I never got in trouble at school and now my first offense was being a made an example of for all the school to see.
As if that were not enough punishment, I still had to go to the class of the other teacher who had snatched the note in the hallway. I was praying that the class would go by without any mention of my offense. But sure enough, the teacher began the class by talking about what had happened and I still remember a phrase she said as she looked me straight in the eyes..
“When someone makes such a big mistake, it takes a long, long time to regain the respect you have for them.”
I walked out of the school building that day and never wanted to go back. However, I was too scared to tell my mom and dad because these two teachers had made it seem like I had committed the unpardonable sin, and I feared further punishment at home.
So I tucked the guilt and shame of the event away in my heart as I walked home that day and quietly went to my room to write my apology letter to the teachers without ever telling my parents. I prayed that my parents would never find out.
With a couple of months left in school, I couldn’t wait for school to be over so I didn’t have to face the embarrassment I felt walking those halls and sitting in those teacher’s classrooms feeling like I had committed the ultimate sin. There was never another mention of the event, but the words spoken to me on that day replayed over and over in my mind and I struggled daily to forgive myself and put it all behind me. I fought a mental battle trying to understand why those teachers had put my first mistake at school on display for all to see.
Summer finally came. New school years came and went.
The pain of that moment in middle school faded, but over 25 years later the memory of the pain has remained vivid in my mind.
I didn’t know it at the time. But that day in middle school, taught me one of my “rules to live by” for my life.
“Always offer forgiveness and grace to yourself and to others.”
For months following that day in middle school, the memory of my mistake and the words of those teachers would replay in my head and I walked around in a cloud of shame and guilt.
However, as I continued to lean into Jesus and study the Bible, I realized that I did not have to live in shame. I could release my sin at the foot of the cross and walk in freedom from my mistake. I could offer this same grace to the teachers who had wounded me with their words and in turn I was being set free to live the life that God intended for me here on Earth.
Ashlynn and Brooklynn. Learning to forgive and offer grace is one of life’s most difficult lessons to master. However, as with most things that we must learn to do in life, you practice offering forgiveness and grace daily in the “little things”.
- when you forget your homework at home…forgive yourself
- when someone bumps into you in line….forgive them
- when you talk back disrespectfully to you mom or dad…forgive yourself
- when someone makes a promise to you that they do not fully keep…forgive them
For sure there will be bigger offenses in life where it will be more difficult to offer forgiveness and grace. However, it is by daily practicing in the little things that we strengthen our forgiveness and grace giving muscles and so when the big offenses come our way we are less likely to be drowned in the waters of unforgiveness or shame and guilt.
May you hide these words in your hearts as you walk the halls of your middle school this year.
Soak in these words when someone else sin impacts you.
Colossians 3:13 (NLT) Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
And when you find yourself shackled to shame and guilt because your own sin has impacted others, stand on this truth.
1 John 1:9(NLT) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
Leave that shame and guilt at the foot of the cross and walk in the forgiveness.
Some people may tell you to “forgive and forget.” Those nights in middle school where I lay in my bed in tears trying to forget the hurt and guilt, I no doubt prayed for God to erase this event from my memory. However, I had no idea that God was teaching me a lesson that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
I had no idea that it became a defining moment in life to teach me how to forgive others, forgive myself, and how to look at sins through the lens of grace.
May the “not so good days” of your middle school years imprint lessons to live by on your heart that will help you walk in the love, grace, and freedom that is available in Christ.