This is my story. The story of how God first drew me to himself as a young child, and again when I was older, struggling with my self-image. It is a story of the pain of bullying and the lies it lead me to believe about myself…and how God conquered those lies and showed me who I am in Christ. I hope this is an encouragement to others who have gone through something similar. You are not alone, and you are loved.
Saved by Grace
I was raised in a Christian home, in a very small, rural Oklahoma town. Our house was across the street from the First Baptist Church, where my mom was the pianist and a children’s Sunday school teacher. According to my mom, she began taking me to church with her when I was a week old, and we rarely missed a Sunday.
The First Baptist Church in my Hometown.
I grew up loving Jesus and wanting to follow him, and had memorized John 3:16 at a young age:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
John 3:16 not only tells us that God loves us, but shows us how much he does! Though I had heard this from birth, I was 8 years old before I truly understood it.
Mom & I on my first Easter (in our matching dresses). 🙂
In January of 1990, I attended a revival with my family at another church in town. The sermon was on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for the first time, I realized my part in it. It was because of MY sin.
In Romans 3:23, Paul explains:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, ”
and continues in vs. 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I was a sinner, I deserved death, but Jesus loved me so much that he died in my place so that I could have a forever relationship with him.
God was speaking directly to me that evening. I felt the guilt of my sin. Not only sadness, but like a physical heaviness. My heart raced. I knew that I needed to make a decision, and I wanted to make that decision to follow him.
Romans 10:9-10 tells us:
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
When I returned home that evening from the revival, I sat with my mom at the kitchen table and prayed. I don’t remember my exact words, but I told God that I believed Jesus was his son, and that he died and came back to life to save me from my sins. I asked for his forgiveness and asked him to come into my life and lead me. I wanted to follow him.
Many years later, I still remember being filled with such joy that I danced, and my momma cried. I was LOVED.
Christmas 1989 (I’m the blonde in the center, back row.)
Check out the awesome baptistry in the background!
Bullying and the Lies I Believed
I have good memories of the time I spent in elementary school, but things changed when I reached 5th grade. My 5th through 7th grade years were a very difficult and lonely time. With the oil bust in the 80s, our small town had become even smaller. By the time I finished middle school, my two younger siblings and I were the only youth at our church. My class size at school dwindled also, reaching 6 students by 8th grade.
I know the middle school years tend to be an awkward time for many, but they were especially hard for me, socially. l made good grades (which labeled me as a nerd), I wasn’t good at basketball in spite of my height (which was the only activity our school had, so a big part of your popularity was based on it), and I went through the typical pre-teen awkwardness of getting braces (plus early 90s giant glasses and bangs).
5th & 6th grade Basketball & Summer League Softball
It seemed like everyone was against me. I remember little things like showing up to school to find that someone had dumped the contents of my school supplies box, or scattered pencil shavings all over my desk and chair. I remember being intentionally elbowed and tripped in line. I remember being barked at and called names. I remember whispers and laughter with glances my way. I remember turning in my chair to watch the clock in the back of the classroom, willing time to pass quickly so I could get away…
Easter ’92. Check out those bangs!
My worst memory of middle school is of being punched in the stomach by a boy in my class. I was with a group of students playing basketball during our lunch recess. I threw up a shot and completely missed the basket, the backboard, everything… air ball. There was one boy in particular in my class who had it out for me, and he taunted me after that shot. However, he soon threw an air ball, himself.
Feeling vindictive, I pointed out that he had just done the same thing that he had made fun of me for… and he turned around and punched me in the stomach. Hard. It knocked the air out of me. I remember stumbling off the court, gasping for breath… and hearing laughter. No one came to my aid. I was completely alone.
I didn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through – I was afraid things would get worse if I spoke up. I would cry myself to sleep most nights, replaying what had happened that day and dreading having to face it again in the morning. And after hearing and being shown over and over by my peers that I was unworthy and unlovable, I came to believe it. I became very self-conscious and timid, and had very low self-esteem.
My parents and I at my 8th grade graduation.
Lingering Effects of Bullying
There was no high school in my town, so I transferred schools after 8th grade. High school was a much better experience. I had a fresh start. I went from a class size of 6 to one of over 100, and quickly made friends. However, I still had an overwhelming fear of rejection. I was so afraid of drawing negative attention that the thought of speaking up in class had me frozen with fear, and starting a conversation with someone I didn’t know was very intimidating. I heard comments so many times about how quiet I was, and how I should talk more. It was so frustrating – more than anything, that’s exactly what I wanted to do. I prayed every night that God would take away my fear and make me outgoing. Over four years of high school, my fear only eased a little.
Senior Class of ’99. “Last of the Century, Best of the Century.” 🙂
Friendships and Self-esteem
After graduating high school, I moved to Stillwater in the fall to attend Oklahoma State University and study Mechanical Engineering. Not long into my freshman year, one of the girls living on my dorm floor invited to me a Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) meeting. I jumped right in. The students that I met through Cru were so friendly and inclusive. Many evenings and weekends were spent with my new friends – playing card games in the Mezzanine of Kerr-Drummond, attending cookouts, movie nights, and watch parties, canoeing for the first time at Fall Retreat, dancing at the Tumbleweed…attending church and Bible studies together. I had never before felt such a sense of closeness and belonging outside of my own family.
OSU Homecoming Walkaround.
The hat-less gal in the back is my friend Amy, who introduced me to Cru.
As a result, my self-esteem was much higher. I had made some great friends, and it felt good to belong. What I didn’t realize, though, is that I was still obtaining my worth from other people – from what I believed they thought of me.
Cru Christmas party with my BFFs.
Discovering Who I am in Christ
During Christmas break of my freshman year, I attended Cru’s Winter Conference in Dallas. In one of the sessions, Dwight Edwards gave a message about our identity in Christ.
He suggested that many Christians see themselves as costume jewelry, a worthless metal covered with an attractive coating. Like costume jewelry, we see ourselves as sinners at the core, but covered by the blood of Christ. Worthless, but forgiven.
However, this is not the case! When we give our lives to Christ, he changes us. He doesn’t just cover our sins, he takes them away. And he places within us a new heart with new desires. He gives us a new purpose – to do the good things he has planned for us to do.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (New Living Translation)
God spoke to me through this:
I did think of myself as costume jewelry. Deep down, I still believed I was the words that were said to me long ago… ugly, unlovable, unworthy of love. (Worthless metal.) Despite this, I had God’s love and forgiveness. (Attractive coating.)
For so many years, I had been deriving my worth from others. It was so freeing to understand that my value came from him. I was a new creation – his creation, his masterpiece. My worth wasn’t found in others’ opinions or even my own, but in Christ. It wasn’t based on how I feel, but who I am.
And in Christ, I am:
- a child of God (John 1:12)
- made in his image (Genesis 1:27)
- chosen, holy, and beloved (Colossians 3:12).
That was a changing point in my life. I was set free. I no longer had that crippling fear of being judged by others. God answered those prayers from my high school years! For the first time, I felt confident. Not only did Jesus love me, but I realized that my life had value.