November 17, 2010

Why I'm Thankful for Bullies

Bullies, I've met a few in my time. One of the interesting things that happens when people unmercifully pick on you is that their words often stick. As a result, years later, the jeers of the past are stuck in the buffer of an unconscious tape that replays in our minds.

I hate that tape.

Perhaps you have heard some of these more universal insults play back at the most inopportune moments. I certainly have. Things like:

You're ugly.

You're stupid.

What a nerd.

Loser.

You'll never amount to anything.

Maybe you deal with other lies.

Those are just a few of the many mean things that people said to me as I was growing up. Despite the fact that I know they are not true sometimes they still return to haunt me. From time to time, I ask my husband if there is a big "L" on my forehead. He rarely replies any more. In truth, I already know the answer. No one can make me feel inferior without my permission. I've given in many times, though.

I know I must learning to change the tape.

I went through a long period of being bullied when, at the age of 16, a mass developed on the right side of my face. Near the end of the school year the surgeon recommended a biopsy. It was frightening. I'd never been in the hospital before, let alone, had someone planning to operate on my face. Fortunately, I was in good hands, and because I didn't have to return to school had plenty of time to heal while savoring a good pathology report.

Then things changed.

By the end of summer there were signs that the mass was returning. It was very upsetting. As a member of the marching band, chorus, and a chorale group that traveled and performed--I wanted to hide. Yet quite often I couldn't. My friends and peers were kind to me. Their words of encouragement kept me going through many difficult days.

It was often strangers who did the bullying.

"Hey baseball face were you born that way?"

"Wow, I've seen better looking monsters."

This time the mass grow quite quickly and became about the size of a hardball. The doctors waited until absolutely necessary before removing it because they did not want to have to repeatedly do surgery on my face. I didn't want them to, either.

Waiting is hard.

One mid-January afternoon we went for a scheduled appointment. It turned out to be anything but routine. The mass had nearly tripled in size and was blocking my visual fields aside from being able to seeing straight forward due to it's location. The plastic surgeon shuttled us over to Mott's Children's Hospital in his car. There a huge group of surgeons prodded, poked, ultra sounded, and questioned me.

It was overwhelming.

The mass had changed at an alarming rate. Surgery was scheduled immediately. It was dangerous due to the location and the delicate network of nerves running along the side of my face. Not to mention the fact that the doctors had already told my parents that if the mass was malignant, they would have to close me up, as there would be nothing that they could do.

We were anxious but prayerful.

When I woke up from that surgery one of my teachers was standing next to my bed. He asked what the doctor had said to me. Despite my post-surgical fog I was able to recall that they said things were okay. This was a great relief to him as his main concern was that it might be cancer. Something he faced every day, with his daughter who was born fighting the disease. It was not cancer but the surgery was extensive. Over 300 stitches were skillfully placed in strategic locations. The surgeons took great pains in hiding as much of their work as possible. Still it was a huge adjustment for me.

I remained self-conscious.  

I stayed out of school for almost two months. In all honesty I had no desire to return. My doctor who'd begun to pick up the rumblings of depression began to challenge me. It worked. Although I'd been given the opportunity to bag off on the rest of my senior year and still graduate--I summoned the courage to return to school. That meant returning to the public eye with both friends and foes.

Now the bullies had other things to say. Other cruel questions to ask. Additional snide remarks to make. Bigger insults to hurl.

"How did you get that dent in your face."

"Were you born ugly, or did you have to work at it. "

People can be so cruel. 

But from the jeers I learned great lessons about myself. I learned that my identity does not come from my looks or my abilities. Despite the opportunities to dish out rude responses, I learned that a soft answer (and some times no answer) turns away wrath. I came to the realization that God had a plan for me despite my facial deformity and other issues.

What they meant for evil God meant for good.

The lessons have continued as I've grown into an adult. From time to time people still make comments about my face. That's okay. At least, most of the time, these are now in the form of questions. That makes it much easier to handle.

Every now and then a person will make a "wisecrack" about my physical disabilities. Not understanding that being crippled in body does not mean crippled in mind--their words do sting. But thankfully they don't throw me off track nearly as often as before.

I'm thankful for bullies.

They've taught me more about who I am and who I desire to be. Their cruel remarks have challenged me to take the high road. In many ways they've done a work that kindness could not do. A quote I read, just yesterday, kind of sums it up:

"In life, think of mean people like sand paper. They may scratch you and hurt you, but at the end, you come out smooth and polished and the mean person is just worn and ugly." Unknown

Smoothing and polishing is necessary for me to shine for Christ. 

Jesus faced a lot of bullies in His time. He had nothing to learn from them but used their actions, on more than one occasion, as a platform from which to teach His followers. His teachings were in sharp contrast to the law and also contrary to human nature. Through them He taught others to love God's way--the polar opposite of what we're used to. And it is important to heed His words.

We'll never reach people if we don't love them.

Jesus gave these instructions regarding bullies: "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty." Matthew 5:44-45 The MSG

I'm not sure if it is the written laws or unwritten companions that often do so much harm. But I am certain that when we love and pray for someone who gives us a hard time it does bring out the best in us. How can imitating the Master possibly do anything less?

Were you ever bullied?

What impact has it had on you?

Where are you in the process of learning to pray for those who mistreat(ed) you?

How can I pray for you?

14 comments:

Julie Harvey said...

Couldn't help but think back to some of your "bullies" on Examiner, Rev...
Another wonderfully encouraging post,
GBU
Jules xox

Melinda Lancaster said...

Ah yes, Jules. Another instance of bullying. I guess I've nearly forgotten it!

Julie Harvey said...

Its a great thing when God takes the sting out of hurtful situations! to Him be all the glory, amen!!

The Woman at The Well said...

Thank you for being so vulnerable Melinda.... was just considering the importance of 'identity' this morning as I contemplate writing a Grace based curriculum for women...... we really need to fill ourselves with truth in the face of so much negative. Even without obvious deformities, I have often felt crippled. I find that bullies dont even have to be real :(

Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God..... through your pain, you have found the Kingdom! So glad to have found you!

Melinda Lancaster said...

Hi Pam:
That cirriculum is needed. And yes, sometimes bullies are not real, no longer present, or merely a reflection of our wrong self talk.
Thanks for sharing!

jasonS said...

Thank you Melinda. It boggles my mind how someone could justify talking to someone else the way you described here, but I know kids can be cruel. They were cruel to me and then in return I would sometimes be cruel behind their backs. None of it is right, but thank God He can use the worst of times and people to reveal the light of Jesus. Blessings on you, Melinda!

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Melinda ~

I'm so glad Jason highlighted this post. Strangely enough, many of the bullies I've faced as an adult have been people who claim Christ. Some were just putting others down so they could feel more righteous. A couple were blatantly malicious. I'm amazed that the Holy Spirit is so gracious as to allow it. I fear for what He must be compelled to do, to counter it.

When I was ignorant, I emulated a few "Christian" bullies (to some extent), before I realized what I was doing. I've tried to undo that as much as possible, and now have a drive to build others up rather than tear them down. My heart goes out to the bullied, even as I remind myself to love and pray for bullies. Whether they are ignorant, lashing out because of deep hurts they've also suffered, or just plain cruel, they live in bondage, in the Hell they create for themselves.

I think it is difficult to be grateful for bullies in the midst of an attack. But I'm learning that the Lord uses bullies to prove what I'm made of, and to refine me. I suppose that if I keep this in mind, I may be able to thank the Lord for bullies, however later.

The timing of your post ... it's good. I'm grateful to God for it.

What a beautiful soul you have, Melinda. If the Lord used scars on your face as a beauty treatment for your soul, He did so magnificently.

Melinda Lancaster said...

Jason, thanks for reading, commenting and featuring me on your Friday list. What a blessing.
Anne, thanks for stopping by. I believe God uses everything--even bullies in the process of refinement. And scars, for that matter, too!

Anne Lang Bundy said...

Melinda ~

I'm so glad Jason highlighted this post. Strangely enough, many of the bullies I've faced as an adult have been people who claim Christ. Some were just putting others down so they could feel more righteous. A couple were blatantly malicious. I'm amazed that the Holy Spirit is so gracious as to allow it. I fear for what He must be compelled to do, to counter it.

When I was ignorant, I emulated a few "Christian" bullies (to some extent), before I realized what I was doing. I've tried to undo that as much as possible, and now have a drive to build others up rather than tear them down. My heart goes out to the bullied, even as I remind myself to love and pray for bullies. Whether they are ignorant, lashing out because of deep hurts they've also suffered, or just plain cruel, they live in bondage, in the Hell they create for themselves.

I think it is difficult to be grateful for bullies in the midst of an attack. But I'm learning that the Lord uses bullies to prove what I'm made of, and to refine me. I suppose that if I keep this in mind, I may be able to thank the Lord for bullies, however later.

The timing of your post ... it's good. I'm grateful to God for it.

What a beautiful soul you have, Melinda. If the Lord used scars on your face as a beauty treatment for your soul, He did so magnificently.

The Woman at The Well said...

Thank you for being so vulnerable Melinda.... was just considering the importance of 'identity' this morning as I contemplate writing a Grace based curriculum for women...... we really need to fill ourselves with truth in the face of so much negative. Even without obvious deformities, I have often felt crippled. I find that bullies dont even have to be real :(

Jesus said, blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God..... through your pain, you have found the Kingdom! So glad to have found you!

NJ Stevenson said...

Very inspiring. I've had and still have my share of bullies but I'm thankful for them, they help strengthen me to stand. This so encouraging and I'm posting a link to it on a friends wall...we just talked about this last week.  Thank you for your transparency and love to share with us.

Bridget Willard said...

Oh Wow, Melinda.
God has really given you wisdom and insight and explains why you are such an encourager. 

Than you for your testimony.

melindalancaster said...

Thanks so much, Nanny. I think that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. :-) I appreciate you passing this post along. Hope you're friend will be ministered to by it.

melindalancaster said...

Thanks for reading this and taking the time to comment, Bridget. We all need encouragement. You've given me some today. Blessings to you!

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