How I Survived The Bullies…

…does it still count that it was before the days of social media??

Probably, yes. Because for the select few that really went out of their way to pick on me, they would not have had access to my Facebook page. My parents, to their credit, would have been pretty selective in watching and teaching me discernment on who I connected with on line and what got posted. I know this for a fact, because even in adulthood, every once in a while, one of them inquires offline, about something I posted online. *Love you, Mom & Dad.

To their credit, I still factor in the quality of my relationships with people in real-life to interacting with them online. Why do I do this? Because communicating in real life is challenging enough, with facial expressions and body-language, non-verbal and verbal cues and environments, background noises and who knows what else.  Plus, who knows every emoticon symbol and how many of them need to be included in your post, to truly express your excitement, sadness, sympathy, empathy, or how hard you hit the ground from falling out of your chair, you were laughing so hard.

That being said (or typed-out for you those that thrive on technicalities), real-life drama and the reduction thereof consumes enough time and energy and skill. Such drama online has caused people to simply check-out from the activity or worse, the relationship altogether. Granted, that may not be a bad idea at times, but how often does such a break happen or is even needed in real-life?

Having heard all the crazy stories about online bullying, I’m glad my experience happened long before such incredibly powerful technology fit in the palm of your hand and could be shared with the world. I retain my belief, though, that what brought me through still applies.

1) Strong family-support system.

I can’t recount the times I came home frustrated over some kid behaving like a jerk, picking on some physical feature or attribute that I had no control. Often times I was in tears. Was it worth crying over? As my brother continues to advise me, even to this day, on larger matters of life, “In 100 years, will this even matter?” Inevitably, the answer is and always was, no. But in grade school, with few friends, it’s hard to imagine 30-something years down the road, being able to share your thoughts on the matter with who knows how many readers of blogs. So yes, at the time, it might not have been worth it, but it seemed like it.

My parents, however, almost daily, depending on the events, repeated the statement: “God loves you and we love you and that’s all that matters.” My brother was usually there when it was said, so I knew he was part of the “we”, and if for some reason he wasn’t in the conversation, they made a point to include him specifically for loving me.” Those constant words of affection drove home the point, that my identity was in Christ and what God thought of me and not man. Furthermore, they reinforced the principle that if someone is not going to get to know you and spend time with you based on the positive things about you, then what they negatively say about you really doesn’t carry much weight….in fact, none to be exact.

The difference between criticism and constructive criticism, is whether or not, at the end of the statement, you have been given something you can use to make yourself or the circumstances better.

Otherwise, they’re just expressing negativity, which probably comes from a negative attitude or spirit and unless they admits a willingness to change that about themselves, then is really no reason why they shouldn’t carry it themselves and take it somewhere else.

2) Strong church involvement.

My family has attended and been involved in church since before I was born. And even though, I attended Christian schools since I was 5, it didn’t mean every kid exhibited Christ-like behavior and attitudes. This was especially true, as I got older and parent thought their problem kid in public school would suddenly get their act together in a private, or Christian-setting. I don’t deny the possibility of that happening and I now, understand parents motivation for hoping it might help, but often it did not. Please don’t take this the wrong way…I’ve had many friends do well in public education and many more who went into education for a profession. I have read and understand the arguments for the education system in this country being broken on many levels, and particularly in the public sector. I don’t say that to say Christian schools are inherently better…that’s a decision that each family needs to make.

I state these things though, to bring a point of understanding to the fact that the culture is different b/w schools, both public and private. I switched from one Christian school to another Christian school during my Junior year, and even there, the culture difference was noticeable…so much so, in fact, that I came home that first day and asked “Why didn’t we make this decision sooner?” If you have a problem child in school and a change needs to be made, I understand that decision and I pray you get wisdom regarding the matter. But having been on the receiving end of someone’s kid with a bad attitude, expect some hard conversations, and meetings, with upset kids and unhappy parents. I know it’s hard for you as well and that’s why a change was made, but it’s not gonna happen over-night; and the kid is gonna do quite a bit more disrupting before it catches up to their life. So……*deep breath. How does that play into a strong church environment? Culture.

Compared to school, the kids at church were different. They wanted to be there, it was fun and engaging and they were coming from homes that exhibited Christian values and beliefs. Having such an environment reinforced what Mom & Dad were teaching at home and church was a place outside the classroom where you could get to know people and hang out, after church or on weekends. This was especially true once I got my license. I think my friend Ben and I were hanging out after every service and or every Friday or Saturday night. Ben’s Mom quickly become my adopted mom and Ben’s little brother, my little brother (which worked out well, since Ben was the oldest and I was the youngest.) And then there was Erin. She was and is an incredible woman of God. The three of us had great times. Church was the place that I got make true friends, that we could laugh and joke and share life and learn about God. And obviously good teachers and pastors played a substantial role in the process.

The value obtained there was a force-field against the knuckleheads who working on their career as class clown. Or the transferred, “problem kid” practicing their pitching arm with an orange while in the classroom. I think my head was supposed to be the glove, but I ducked and ended up wearing the orange as it shattered against the brick wall next me. *true story.

3) Speaking of Teachers and Pastors…

The teacher I had during my 3rd-4th grade years was incredible. To this day, she remains one of my favorites. Mostly, because I remember her paying close attention to knowing what transpired in her classroom. This, being an important characteristic when being a victim of bullying, as inevitably, when questioned, the bully’s default response is something along the lines: “What? I didn’t do anything! It was his fault…he started it.”  Almost sounds like some politicians, these days.

I remember one instance in particular where she stood up for me, and I remember the person who got in trouble and what was required of that student, when the teacher said….”OK, the next person who……” (I don’t remember the rest of the line.) But I remember what happened a few minutes later when “next” happened. I don’t know if she’ll see this or remember the incident, but I do and I remember she was in tears. Not sure if it was genuine sorrow or bummed she got caught, but a teacher who stood up for this kid made my day. And it wasn’t that she got in trouble. It was that I was defended as being a person of value…and obviously, almost 30 years later, it was engrained for life.

4) This too shall pass.

Famous last words from friends and extended family members. An aunt in particular, who continues to pray and speak blessing over me. I believe that to still be true, from the notes she sends at birthdays and during Christmas. And when I was younger and they lived in-state or we would visit when they moved away, she would re-affirm, God had a plan for my life. The continual reminders that school was for an education, not a social life; that kids will be kids and some will never truly grow-up, that my worth was in the eyes of God and not in man…these were hard points to comprehend at times and keep in focus, but the fact that they were coming from trust-worthy adults who had my best interests at heart carried a lot more weight than a problem kid w/ acne and good throwing arm or another who was probably a little overweight. Which bears stating….each of us have our inadequacies and we each need to learn to deal with them in our own way. If it’s something you can change and are desirous to do so, then what are you waiting for. If it can’t be changed or the desire isn’t there, then ultimately you have to live with it.

It boils down to this…”Are you comfortable with you?”

Others might have opinions and suggestions on the matter, but again, that is ultimately their comfort level and not yours.

So how do I know survived and came out thriving?

Because someone dared to speak up, speak the truth and follow-through on their actions.

My parents and brother remain among the biggest believers in me. They feel for me when life gets rough, pray over me and offer me encouragement and advice.

I have remained involved in church, throughout college and adulthood. I know who I am in Christ and that God values who I am and that He has a plan and purpose for my life. To this day, my closest friends and second families have come from churches I have attended over the years, and even when I’ve changed churches, those relationships still exist.

The bullying passed. I learned valuable, life lessons of discernment and to this day, I carefully consider my level of interaction with friends and acquaintances and who is trusted with what info. The Bible calls it “guard your heart.” It is a skill worth perfecting, because a damaged heart will cause more damage until it’s repaired.

Repairing of the heart does happen. With time. Through love. By examination. The orange story was embarrassing. Now, it’s pretty hilarious. Being told God loves you and has a purpose for life outweighs any worthless words of a person who hasn’t been told or experienced God’s love and purpose themselves. In fact, that’s probably how you should respond. Examining those situations will help you understand yourself and others and the cause behind it. Come to think of it, it was through examination, that my response was never a physical altercation. Sure, I threw out some responses that caused more static and I realized I probably should have stayed quiet. Especially when talking with Dad and he would ask me why I didn’t stay quiet. He and I have even shared moments, years later and thought, maybe just once I should have defended myself physically. But somewhere in there, not doing so, really was taking the high road.

I love my family. I love my friends. I love my wife and kids. And while I’ve had plenty of life moments of “why isn’t this working out like I want it”, this remains….life will move forward.

You can engage, make the most of it and live life to the fullest.

You can sit static and let yesterday repeat itself.

One decision is significantly more healthy for you than the other.

Thanks for reading. I hope this helps.

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