I remember sitting there as they mocked my friend.
In classic movie fashion, there was one main tormentor with two large sidekicks, the perfect harsh trio. I watched as they tore her down with finely tuned insults and threats. She stared blankly at the lunchroom table, only looking up when her hopes of defending herself outweighed the load of the attack, which wasn’t often. So far they were just slinging words, but throwing punches wasn’t out of the ordinary, and we were praying it wouldn’t go there.
Even though the high school cafeteria was filled with gossip and laughter, the silence from the other students was the loudest thing in the room. They knew if they interceded they would gain the gang’s wrath, a heavy price to pay when teenage popularity was at stake.
Looking back I still don’t remember exactly what was said. I don’t remember what the fight was about or how it even started, but I do remember the moment God showed up…
Normally I felt God’s presence when I sensed His peace, experienced His heart or heard the gentleness of His words. But this time He made Himself known when His will won out over mine. You see, Dear Reader, if left alone on that Thursday afternoon in that busy high school cafeteria, I would have kept my mouth shut as a means of self-protection. But God had a kinder plan and deep within me a Voice began to rise. Before I knew it the words flew out, too fast for me to catch them.
“Stop it! Leave her alone.”
I was shocked, mostly because I confronted a girl who literally terrified me. But even more so because I didn’t sound scared. I didn’t stutter. My words were fierce and full and strong. And to top it off, I actually felt brave. Jesus stepped in, answered my heart’s cry for justice, and chose to use me as part of His answer! I wasn’t ready and didn’t think I had the courage to do so, but the beauty of God’s love could not be contained. He saw the shadow of shame resting heavily upon my friend, and He interceded on His Daughter’s behalf. And I was in awe.
For precisely three seconds I felt on top of the world, ready for anything. But as the bully’s gaze shifted towards me, I realized I was the fresh target… a new outlet for her anger and insecurities. All the fears swirling around in my head quickly became a whirlwind of questions. What was I doing?! What was I thinking? Was I even thinking? Obviously not, and I was pretty positive I was going to vomit.
It was the first time I was ever physically threatened. She told me to watch my back because it would happen in the next few days. Just before I could respond all three of them left, leaving me to sort out my mixture of emotions.
Afterwards I walked around my school with pride and fear as my companions. I was proud of my actions, but scared of their consequences. I hid in the bathrooms during passing periods and had walking buddies everywhere. Being alone meant they could get me. During one class I thought it was safe to go to my locker to grab a homework assignment. No one would be in the halls, so I was good. I remember looking up from my locker and catching my breath. She was walking straight towards me, cold-eyed glare and all. This was definitely it. I braced for the inevitable and told myself it was worth it. And it was.
The next minute was a miracle.
As her eyes fixated on mine, and I stared directly back. Every step closer made me want to run, but I held my ground. That’s when she walked slowly past me, said nothing and headed straight into the bathroom. It was her golden opportunity to take me down, to show me my place and turn her threats into reality. But she didn’t. Not a single word was spoken (not even to this day!), but our hearts came to an unprofessed understanding. She saw me, and I believe for the first time I actually saw her.
Psalm 34:4-5 says, “I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”
Fear has a way of stopping us from seeing what God is seeing. It makes us focus on our perceived circumstances, and we forget to trust God for the whole perspective. We forget that He wants His best for us, and He wants His abundance for all. And then one day you are walking down the hall and you realize your enemy is not your enemy. You realize your hearts are the same, but your stories are different. And the God of the Universe loves her just as much as He loves you because everyone is worthy of His love.
I’m not sure why she never followed up on her threat. I can only assume deep down knew she deserved more… that she didn’t have to make others feel small in order to make herself feel big. I know my friend was shamed in that cafeteria, but I’m pretty sure this girl condemned herself just as severely.
It’s been twenty years, but I consider that day a stepping-stone towards freedom. Yes, I faced some fears, but more importantly I faced a truth. No matter what we are loved just as we are, right where we are. The extravagance of this Love kicks down every fear and washes away any trace of shame. It covers our stories in radiant redemption that fills every fracture with goodness. It offers grace as an open invitation…
To the Victim,
To the Bystander
And faithfully yes…
Even to the “Bully”.
It’s real freedom. And thankfully, it’s freely ours.